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By Emma Graham-Harrison and Langi Chiang
BEIJING (Reuters) - A senior Chinese climate official said on Tuesday that negotiators aim to seal a binding global pact on warming by the end of 2011, a blow to any lingering hopes the world could reach a deal at talks this year in Mexico.
Xie Zhenhua, who led China's delegation to fractious negotiations in Copenhagen last year, said the only target for a December gathering in coastal Cancun city was a "positive result".
Top European and U.N. officials had already all but ruled out a deal this year, but Xie's comments are the first time the world's number one emitter has confirmed it also does not expect to seal a new pact in 2010.
"Everyone is now taking pragmatic measures, and working hard in a positive manner, in order that we can achieve a legally binding agreement at next year's meeting in South Africa," Xie told a Sino-European political forum.
Environment ministers of the so-called BASIC bloc of major emerging economies -- Brazil, South Africa, India and China -- agreed a month ago that a deal should be sealed by 2011.
But Xie signalled that was more a target than a last-ditch deadline, with talks in Mexico at the end of the year likely to produce little more than incremental progress on less-controversial issues like forest protection schemes.
"According to the current negotiating process, every country is taking quite a pragmatic approach. We hope that this year everyone can increase mutual trust, and move forward in exchanging opinions on all key problems, so we can have a positive result from this year's meeting in Cancun," he said.
"At the same time, we have not set in advance a goal that we must draw up a legally binding treaty."
Xie also said that China would like a future deal under the framework of the Kyoto Protocol, which binds about 40 developed nations to cutting emissions by 2008-12, but that there were some obstacles to continuing to uphold it.
One of the key problems was the position of the United States, which did not ratify the protocol, he said.
Without binding emissions cuts for the top developed-world emitter, other industrialised countries, including Japan and some European nations, were reluctant to accept new targets, Xie added.
Two years of talks that culminated in the Copenhagen summit failed to agree on a legal pact for cuts after 2012.
It produced only the non-binding Copenhagen accord, since signed by more than 110 countries, and which has U.S. President Barack Obama as one of its top supporters.
The accord pledges $30 billion from 2010-2012 to help the poor face the impacts of climate change, such as floods, drought, mudslides and rising seas.
It also sought to keep a rise in average world temperatures to less than 2 degrees Celsius from pre-industrial times. But it did not spell out how this should be done.
(Reporting by Emma Graham-Harrison; Editing by Nick Macfie)
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