Developing nations publicly insist the rich must agree far deeper cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, but increasingly believe that only a weaker deal can actually be achieved to keep the existing Kyoto Protocol, or parts of it, alive beyond 2012.
They have to ask for a camel ... but will settle for a goat, Mohamed Adow, of Christian Aid, said of poor nations strategy at a just-ended session of 180 nations in Bonn.
Hopes for a treaty have dimmed since US President Barack Obama and other world leaders failed to agree a binding pact at a summit in Copenhagen in 2009.
Rich economies are reluctant to make substantial cuts in their emissions beyond 2012 without commitments from big developing economies like China and India to also curb their fast-rising emissions.
At issue now is what can be salvaged from the talks.
This process is dead in the water, said Yvo de Boer, the former head of the UN Climate Change Secretariat who stepped down last year to work at KPMG, a consultancy and auditing firm.
Its not going anywhere, he said during the June 6-17 talks in Bonn among negotiators trying to avert more heatwaves, floods, droughts and rising sea levels.
Disputes between rich and poor on sharing curbs in greenhouse gases mean gridlock over the Kyoto Protocol, the existing UN plan which obliges about 40 industrialised nations to cut greenhouse gas emissions until 2012.
Kyoto risks collapse due to lack of support beyond 2012 from rich nations, which are meant to take the lead in fighting climate change since they have burned carbon-emitting fossil fuels since the Industrial Revolution of the 18th century.