DURBAN, South Africa — After two weeks of tense negotiations, and several all-nighters, a deal to address climate change was finally reached at the UN climate summit in Durban as the sun rose Sunday morning.
The agreement offers a way forward to a treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol, which will see its carbon-emission limits expire at the end of December 2012.
But the Durban deal falls far short of creating a mandate for ambitious emissions cuts, as pushed for by environmentalists and EU negotiators. Instead the more than 190 countries involved in COP 17 negotiations have agreed to work towards "a protocol, legal instrument or agreed outcome with legal force," which is to be adopted no later than 2015 but won't come into force until after 2020.
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Talks were supposed to wrap up Friday but continued through the night, and then Saturday night, before exhausted negotiators finally agreed on a deal Sunday morning.
There were major hurdles along the way, with the US, India and China clashing throughout the conference over the responsibilities of developed versus developing countries in reducing carbon emissions, what is known as "common but differentiated responsibilities."
India refused to sign onto a roadmap leading to a "legal outcome," which the EU in particular had been pushing, hence the carefully negotiated wording in the Durban deal.
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A deal was also reached on the Green Climate Fund, which has a long-term financing commitment of $100 billion and is intended to help poor countries heavily affected by climate change yet least responsible for causing it.
Many countries, including host South Africa, tried to put a positive spin on the Durban outcome.
“We have taken crucial steps forward for the common good and the global citizenry today. I believe that what we have achieved in Durban will play a central role in saving tomorrow, today,” said Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, South Africa's international relations minister and president of the conference.
The EU's Connie Hedegaard on Twitter called it "a roadmap that marks a breakthrough" for the global fight against climate change.
Canada, heavily criticized for its plan to pull out of the Kyoto Protocol, was positive on the deal. In a statement, Canadian environment minister Peter Kent said he was "cautiously optimistic" that a new climate change treaty would be reached by 2015.
"We want to avoid another Kyoto-like pact at all costs," he added.
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But the aid group CARE International criticized the "weak" and "bitterly disappointing outcome" of the conference. Greenpeace said the agreement contained a loophole that could prevent the climate treaty from being legally binding.
“Right now the global climate regime amounts to nothing more than a voluntary deal that’s put off for a decade," said Kumi Naidoo, executive director of Greenpeace. "This could take us over the two degree threshold where we pass from danger to potential catastrophe,"
UN chief negotiator Christiana Figueres said the Durban agreement is "critical next step," but also admitted it is "still insufficient."
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China said "a heavy load of work" was still ahead on the way to reaching a deal for post-2020.
"What needs to be pointed out is that developed country lacks political wills to reduce emissions and provide finance and technology transfer to support developing country," the Chinese delegation said in a statement.
"The lack of political wills is main element that hinders cooperation on addressing climate change in the international community."