December 11, 2011 in Nation/World

Climate summit approves program

U.S. envoy backs it, with reservations
Arthur Max Associated Press
 
Associated Press photo

U.S. negotiator Todd Stern described the deal reached at the U.N. climate conference as “very significant.”
(Full-size photo)

DURBAN, South Africa – A U.N. climate conference reached a hard-fought agreement today on a complex and far-reaching program meant to set a new course for the global fight against climate change for the coming decades.

The 194-party conference agreed to start negotiations on a new accord that would put all countries under the same legal regime enforcing commitments to control greenhouse gases. It would take effect by 2020 at the latest.

The 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.

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 today.

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.

The 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 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.

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.

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