The Heat Is Online

Nations Agree to Binding Emissions Cuts -- by 2020

New U.N. climate deal struck

Reuters, Dec. 11, 2011

(Reuters) - Climate negotiators agreed a pact on Sunday that would for the first time force all the biggest polluters to take action on greenhouse gas emissions, but critics said the action plan was not aggressive enough to slow the pace of global warming.

The package of accords extended the Kyoto Protocol, the only global pact that enforces carbon cuts, agreed the format of a fund to help poor countries tackle climate change and mapped out a path to a legally binding agreement on emissions reductions.

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 Sunday, avoided a collapse of the talks and spared the blushes of host South Africa, whose stewardship of the two weeks of often 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.

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

Delegates agreed to start work next year on a new legally binding treaty 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, agreed at a last-ditch huddle in the conference centre between the European Union, India,  China and the United States, 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.

Sunday's deal follows years of failed attempts to impose legally-binding, international cuts on emerging giants, such as China and India, as well as rich nations like the United States.

The developed world had already accepted formal targets under a first phase of the Kyoto Protocol, which runs out at the end of next year, although Washington never ratified its commitment.

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

LEAST-BAD OPTION

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.

"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 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.

"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 tough bargaining and a more collaborative spirit than we saw in the Durban conference centre these past two weeks."

http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/12/11/us-climate-idUSTRE7B41NH20111211?feedType=RSS&feedName=environmentNews&rpc=76

Climate conference approves landmark deal

The Associated Press, Dec. 11, 2011

DURBAN, South Africa (AP) -- A U.N. climate conference reached a hard-fought agreement Sunday on a far-reaching program meant to set a new course for the global fight against climate change.

The 194-party conference agreed to start negotiations on a new accord that would ensure that countries will be legally bound to carry out any pledges they make. It would take effect by 2020 at the latest.

The deal doesn't explicitly compel any nation to take on emissions targets, although most emerging economies have volunteered to curb the growth of their emissions.

Currently, only industrial countries have legally binding emissions targets under the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. Those commitments expire next year, but they will be extended for at least another five years under the accord adopted Sunday - a key demand by developing countries seeking to preserve the only existing treaty regulating carbon emissions.

The proposed Durban Platform offered answers to problems that have bedeviled global warming negotiations for years about sharing the responsibility for controlling carbon emissions and helping the world's poorest and most climate-vulnerable nations cope with changing forces of nature.

The United States was a reluctant supporter, concerned about agreeing to join an international climate system that likely would find much opposition in the U.S. Congress.

"This is a very significant package. None of us likes everything in it. Believe me, there is plenty the United States is not thrilled about," said U.S. climate envoy Todd Stern. But the package captured important advances that would be undone if it is rejected, he told the delegates.

Sunday's deal also set up the bodies that will collect, govern and distribute tens of billions of dollars a year for poor countries. Other documents in the package lay out rules for monitoring and verifying emissions reductions, protecting forests, transferring clean technologies to developing countries and scores of technical issues.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said the deal represents "an important advance in our work on climate change."

But the deal's language left some analysts warning that the wording left huge loopholes for countries to avoid tying their emissions to legal constraints, and noted that there was no mention of penalties. "They haven't reached a real deal," said Samantha Smith, of WWF International. "They watered things down so everyone could get on board."

Environmentalists criticized the package - as did many developing countries in the debate - for failing to address what they called the most urgent issue, to move faster and deeper in cutting carbon emissions.

"The good news is we avoided a train wreck," said Alden Meyer, recalling predictions a few days ago of a likely failure. "The bad news is that we did very little here to affect the emissions curve."

Scientists say that unless those emissions - chiefly carbon dioxide from power generation and industry - level out and reverse within a few years, the Earth will be set on a possibly irreversible path of rising temperatures that lead to ever greater climate catastrophes.

Sunday's breakthrough capped 13 days of hectic negotiations that ran a day and a half over schedule, including two round-the-clock days that left negotiators bleary-eyed and stumbling with words. Delegates were seen nodding off in the final plenary session, despite the high drama, barely constrained emotions and uncertainty whether the talks would end in triumph or total collapse.

The nearly fatal issue involved the legal nature of the accord that will govern carbon emissions by the turn of the next decade.

A plan put forward by the European Union sought strong language that would bind all countries equally to carry out their emissions commitments.

India led the objectors, saying it wanted a less rigorous option. Environment Minister Jayanthi Natarajan argued that the EU proposal undermined the 20-year-old principle that developing countries have less responsibility than industrial nations that caused the global warming problem through 200 years of pollution.

"The equity of burden-sharing cannot be shifted," she said in angry tones.

Chinese negotiator Xie Zhenhua gave heated support for the Indians, saying the industrial nations have not lived up to their promises while China and other developing countries had launched ambitious green programs.

"We are doing whatever we should do. We are doing things you are not doing. What qualifies you to say things like this," he said, raising his voice and waving his arm.

The debate ran past midnight and grew increasingly tense as speakers lined up almost evenly on one side or the other. Conference president Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, who is South Africa's foreign minister, called a recess and told the EU and Indian delegates to put their heads together and come up with a compromise formula.

Coming after weeks of unsuccessful effort to resolve the issue, Nkoana-Mashabane gave Natarajan and European Commissioner Connie Hedegaard 10 minutes to find a solution, with hundreds of delegates milling around them.

They needed 50 minutes.

The package gave new life to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, whose carbon emissions targets expire next year and apply only to industrial countries. A separate document obliges major developing nations like China and India, excluded under Kyoto, to accept legally binding emissions targets in the future.

Together, the two documents overhaul a system designed 20 years ago that divide the world into a handful of wealthy countries facing legal obligations to reduce emissions, and the rest of the world which could undertake voluntary efforts to control carbon.

The European Union, the primary bloc falling under the Kyoto Protocol's reduction commitments, said an extension of its targets was conditional on major developing countries also accepting limits with the same legal accountability. The 20th century division of the globe into two unequal parts was invalid in today's world, the EU said.

The difficult clause in the documents called on countries to complete negotiations within three years on "a protocol, another legal instrument, or a legal outcome" that would succeed the Kyoto Protocol. It would need about five years for ratification.

But the EU objected to the late addition of the phrase "legal outcome," which it said would allow countries to wriggle out of commitments. The final compromise, reached at 3:30 a.m., changed the final option to "an agreed outcome with legal force."

(c) 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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