Nations approve a late deal for 2015 global pact, agree on fund for climate aid to poor countries; critics say gains modest
A marathon UN climate conference Sunday approved a roadmap towards an accord that for the first time will bring all major greenhouse-gas emitters under a single legal roof.
Talks on a new legal deal covering all countries will begin next year and end by 2015, coming into effect by 2020.
The agreement on the roadmap was reached after nearly 14 days of talks under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
Critics said the action plan was not aggressive enough to slow the pace of global warming.
The forum also launched a “Green Climate Fund” to help channel up to 100 billion dollars a year in aid to poor, vulnerable countries by 2020, an initiative born under the 2009 Copenhagen Summit.
There has also been significant progress on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD), adds BBC.
“I believe that what we have achieved in Durban will play a central role in saving tomorrow, today,” declared South African Foreign Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, who chaired the talks.
Approval came after two and a half days of round-the-clock wrangling among 194 nations, reports AFP.
Even by UNFCCC standards, the meeting broke the record for going into overtime.
The talks should have ended on Friday but wrapped up in the dawn light Sunday amid scenes of exhaustion and shredded nerves, with many delegates saying the host government lacked urgency and strategy.
Nevertheless, there was applause in the main conference hall when Maite Nkoana-Mashabane brought down the long-awaited final gavel.
“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,” she said.
“We have made history.”
The often-stormy exchanges reflected concerns among many countries over the cost of making energy efficiencies and switching to clean renewable sources at a time of belt-tightening.
UNFCCC chief Christiana Figueres was exultant.
Citing the words of Nelson Mandela, she said on Twitter: “In honour of Mandela: It always seems impossible until it is done. And it is done!
“I think in the end it ended up quite well,” said US chief negotiator Todd Stern.
“The first time you will see developing countries agreeing, essentially, to be bound by a legal agreement.”
The European Union hailed the outcome as a “historic breakthrough”.
“Where the  Kyoto [protocol] divides the world into two categories, we will now get a system that reflects the reality of today’s mutually interdependent world,” Connie Hedegaard, the EU commissioner for climate action, said in the statement.
Greenpeace, however, lamented the deal as a victory for polluters over people.
“The grim news is that the blockers lead by the US have succeeded in inserting a vital get-out clause that could easily prevent the next big climate deal being legally binding. If that loophole is exploited it could be a disaster,” said Greenpeace director Kumi Naidoo.
“Right now the global climate regime amounts to nothing more than a voluntary deal that’s put off for a decade.
In the run-up to the conference, scientists pounded out loud warnings, saying future generations would pay the bill for foot-dragging.
Current measures to tackle carbon emissions are falling far short of the goal of limiting warming to two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit).
According to research presented by German scientists, the world is on track for a 3.5 C (6.3 F) rise, spelling worsening droughts, floods, storms and rising sea levels for tens of millions of people.
The European Union led the charge in Durban, pushing for the “roadmap” in exchange for renewing its pledges to the Kyoto Protocol, a treaty deemed iconic by developing countries but increasingly dismissed by rich ones as out of date.
Kyoto’s first roster of legally-binding carbon curbs expires at the end of 2012.
The EU will sign up for fresh commitments taking effect from 2013, although this will be little more than symbolic, translating into the UN framework its existing plan for reducing European greenhouse-gas emissions by 20 percent by 2020 over 1990 levels.
New Zealand, Norway and Switzerland and others are joining it, said European diplomats. The duration of the post-2013 commitments will be either five or eight years. Negotiations on this will take place next year.
The EU made the pledge to help assemble a coalition of developing and small island states — together accounting for nearly two-thirds of the world’s nations — that lobbied China, the United States and India to support the quest.
China and India have become huge emitters of carbon over the last half-dozen years but do not have Kyoto constraints as they are developing countries.
The United States, the world’s no 2 source of man-made carbon, also has no legal curbs as it refused in 2001 to ratify Kyoto.
The key to the Durban deal lay in overcoming the opposition of the Big Three by crafting vague text about what the pact will be — essentially reassuring them that the price will not be unaffordable.
The final text said parties would “develop a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force”.
That compromise averted the use of “legally binding”, likely to trigger a backlash among the conservative right in the United States during a presidential election year.
“The Durban deal is a solid step in the right direction. It preserves Kyoto for now, but more importantly, lays a path toward a more balanced agreement,” said Elliot Diringer of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, a US think tank.
Australia, one of the world’s worst per capita polluters, hailed the deal as a “significant breakthrough.”
Observers say the talks for the 2015 pact will be arduous.
The thorny issues include determining the agreement’s exact legal status and apportioning carbon constraints among rich and poor countries.
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 frontline 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, reports Reuters.
“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.”
UN reports released in the last month warned 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.