The president of the UN climate conference in South Africa has announced agreement on a programme mapping out a new course by all nations to fight climate change over the coming decades.
Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, who is also South Africa’s foreign minister, said the 194-party conference had agreed to start negotiations on a new accord that would put all countries under the same legal regime to enforce their commitments to control greenhouse gases.
“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,” Nkoana-Mashabane said.
“We have made history,” she said.
Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, said the deal represents “an important advance in our work on climate change”.
“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.“
-Todd Stern, the US climate envoy
Delegates agreed to start work next year on the new treaty 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 UN climate convention.
However, key components of Sunday’s accord remain to be hammered out, and observers say the task will be arduous. Thorny issues include the still-undefined legal status of the accord and apportioning cuts on emissions among rich and poor countries.
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 another five years under the accord adopted in the port city of Durban.
For the first time, it would bring all the major emitters, including China and India, unto the same legally binding roof.
Until now, developing giants have had no such constraints on their carbon pollution.
The talks were scheduled to end on Friday after 12 days, but staggered on into the early hours of Sunday in the hope of reaching the new agreement.
Significantly, the US and others appear to have changed their stance.
“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,” Todd Stern, the US climate envoy, said.
But the package captured important advances that would be undone if it is rejected, he told the delegates.
The deal was delayed after India led objections to a EU plan that sought strong language that would bind all countries equally to carry out their emissions commitments.
India believes that only countries levelled “developed” have to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
Jayanthi Natarajan, India’s environment minister, said there was “unfair pressure on Delhi to compromise, and said her country had only reluctantly agreed to the accord”.
“The equity of burden-sharing cannot be shifted,” she said.
Green climate fund
The summit also agreed to form a “Green Climate Fund” to help channel up to $100bn a year in aid to poor nations fighting global warming by 2020, an initiative born under the 2009 Copenhagen Summit.
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.
Al Jazeera’s Jonah Hull, reporting from Durban, said: “It is a significant move but its importance will only be judged in many years’ time, that’s when the commitments that will be made under this new treaty can be sorted out and checked for size and indeed the pace under which they will be undertaken.”
“The reason being, there is major gap which will open up over the next few years until the end of this decade in terms where climate policy needs to be and where it will actually be.”
UN reports released 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 two degrees Celsius over the next century.
A warming planet has already intensified droughts and floods, increased crop failures and sea levels could rise to
levels that would submerge several small island nations, who are holding out for more ambitious targets in emissions cuts.