New U.N. climate deal struck, critics say gains modest

DURBAN,  (Reuters) – Countries from around the  globe agreed yesterday to forge a new deal forcing all the  biggest polluters for the first time to limit greenhouse gas  emissions, but critics said the plan was too timid to slow  global warming.

A package of accords agreed after marathon U.N. talks in  South Africa extended the 1997 Kyoto Protocol – the only global  pact enforcing carbon cuts – allowing five more years to  finalise a wider pact which has so far eluded negotiators.

Maite Nkoana-Mashabane

Kyoto’s first phase – due to expire at the end of next year  but now extended until 2017 – imposed limits only on developed  countries, not emerging giants like China and India. The United  States never ratified it.

Those three countries and the EU held a last-ditch huddle in  the conference centre before finally agreeing to wording that  commits them to a pact with legal force, although exactly what  form it will take was left vague.

Countries also agreed the format of a fund to help poor  nations tackle climate change.

But many small island states and developing nations at risk  of being swamped by rising sea levels and extreme weather said  the deal marked the lowest common denominator possible and  lacked the ambition needed to ensure their survival.

Agreement on the package, reached in the early hours of  yesterday, avoided a collapse of two weeks of climate talks and  spared the blushes of host South Africa, whose stewardship of  the fractious negotiations came under fire from rich and poor  nations.

“We came here with plan A, and we have concluded this  meeting with plan A to save one planet for the future of our  children and our grandchildren to come,” said South African  Foreign Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, who chaired the talks.

Christiana Figueres

“We have made history,” she said, bringing the hammer down  on the Durban conference, the longest in two decades of U.N.  climate negotiations.

Delegates agreed to start work next year on a new, legally  binding accord to cut greenhouse gases, to be decided by 2015  and to come into force by 2020.

The process for doing so, called the Durban Platform for  Enhanced Action, would “develop a new protocol, another legal  instrument or agreed outcome with legal force” that would be  applicable under the U.N. climate convention.

That phrasing was used by all parties to claim victory.

Britain’s Energy and Climate Secretary Chris Huhne said the  result was “a great success for European diplomacy”.

“We’ve managed to bring the major emitters like the U.S.,  India and China into a roadmap which will secure an overarching  global deal,” he said.

U.S. climate envoy Todd Stern said Washington was satisfied  with the outcome: “We got the kind of symmetry that we had been  focused on since the beginning of the Obama administration. This  had all the elements that we were looking for.”

Yet U.N. climate chief Christiana Figueres acknowledged the  final wording on the legal form a future deal was ambiguous:  “What that means has yet to be decided.”

Environmentalists said governments wasted valuable time by  focusing on a handful of specific words in the negotiating text,  and failed to raise emissions cuts to a level high enough to  reduce global warming.

Yesterday’s deal follows years of failed attempts to impose  legally-binding, international cuts on emerging polluters, such  as China and India, as well as rich nations. Poor countries  argue they should deserve leeway to catch up in development.

Yesterday’s deal extends Kyoto until the end of 2017, ensuring  there is no gap between commitment periods. EU delegates said  lawyers would have to reconcile those dates with existing EU  legislation.

India’s Environment Minister Jayanthi Natarajan, who gave an  impassioned speech to the conference denouncing what she said  was unfair pressure on Delhi to compromise, said her country had  only reluctantly agreed to the accord.

“We’ve had very intense discussions. We were not happy with  reopening the text but in the spirit of flexibility and  accommodation shown by all, we have shown our flexibility… we  agree to adopt it,” she said.

Small island states in the front line of climate change,  said they had gone along with a deal but only because a collapse  of the talks was of no help to their vulnerable nations.

“I would have wanted to get more, but at least we have  something to work with. All is not lost yet,” said Selwin Hart,  chief negotiator on finance for the coalition of small states.

Tosi Mpanu-Mpanu, head of the Africa Group, added: “It’s a  middle ground, we meet mid-way. Of course we are not completely  happy about the outcome, it lacks balance, but we believe it is  starting to go into the right direction.”
U.N. reports released in the last month said delays on a  global agreement to cut greenhouse gas emissions will make it  harder to keep the average rise to within 2 degrees Celsius over  the next century.

“It’s certainly not the deal the planet needs – such a deal  would have delivered much greater ambition on both emissions  reductions and finance,” said Alden Meyer of the Union of  Concerned Scientists.

“Producing a new treaty by 2015 that is both ambitious and  fair will take a mix of tough bargaining and a more  collaborative spirit than we saw in the Durban conference centre  these past two weeks.”

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