Last minute climate deal receives muted welcome
by Daniel Mason
A last-ditch climate deal agreed at the United Nations conference in Durban has been described as a "huge success" by the European Union – but green campaigners were critical of the lack of detail and complained that governments were leaving it too late to prevent catastrophic global warming.
The agreement was reached in the early hours of yesterday morning after talks had appeared close to collapse. Instead, the Durban Platform for Enhanced Cooperation commits all major carbon producers – including for the first time the United States, China and India – to work towards a legally binding treaty to reduce emissions. Negotiations on the new deal will begin next year, as governments agree how far and how fast emissions should be cut. Talks are scheduled to be completed by 2015, with the agreement set to come into force after 2020.
At the conference in South Africa, which overran by 36 hours, the EU said it would move its own carbon reduction commitments for this decade into the legal framework of the Kyoto Protocol so that there was no gap in the UN process, even though Japan, Canada and Russia are no longer participating in the old agreement. A green climate fund was also made operational. It will distribute $100bn of assistance pledged by developed countries to assist the developing world in efforts to tackle climate change. Details on how the money will be raised remained unclear but Germany has committed $40m and Denmark $15m to make the fund operational.
The EU had demanded more ambition and got it, according to European Commissioner for Climate Action Connie Hedegaard. "We would not take a new Kyoto period unless we got in return a roadmap for the future where all countries must commit," she said. "Where the Kyoto divides the world into two categories, we will now get a system that reflects the reality of the today's mutually interdependent world. And as we are interdependent, what we promise to do must have the same legal weight. With the agreement on a roadmap towards a new legal framework by 2015 that will involve all countries in combating climate change, the EU has achieved its key goal for the Durban climate conference."
According to The Independent it was Hedegaard's tough negotiations with her Indian opposite number Jayanthi Natarajan that made possible a deal committing all countries to cut their emissions in line with a future climate treaty. The United Kingdom's energy and environment secretary Chris Huhne said: "It shows that when the EU is united we can play an absolutely critical role." And Marcin Korolec, environment minister for Poland – which holds the Council of the EU's rotating presidency – also hailed the agreement. "Today, we adopted a Durban Platform, which will lead us to a legally binding agreement being completed by the year 2015 to engage all parties," he said. "A lot of hard work has gone to achieve this. That is significant success of the Polish presidency of the EU Council together with commission, the EU and the global community as a whole''
The leader of the European Parliament's delegation, Jo Leinen, said the talks were a breakthrough but had to be followed up. "The EU deserves credit for drawing up a roadmap for all nations to respond to their relative responsibilities. The successful talks must now lead to effective action. There is still a gigatonne gap between the emission reduction measures that have been promised and those that are needed. If an international deal will only take effect in 2020, the agreed target to limit warming to two degrees will be in serious danger."
Leinen, a member of the Socialist and Democrat alliance in parliament, was joined on the delegation by Karl-Heinz Florenz of the European People's Party. He said: "The EU's climate diplomacy has worked. The world has changed and it is right to define developing and developed countries according to the new realities. I welcome that China has shown it wants to take on new responsibilities and play a new role in the world. We all need to intensify our efforts because much remains to be done."
The EU showed leadership in the negotiations, said Bas Eickhout MEP, a member of the Greens, but delaying action until after 2020 was "clearly insufficient". He said the conference had proved that more had to be done outside of the UN process. "The EU has talked a lot about the gap between pledge climate actions and what is necessary to avoid dangerous climate change. It must now walk the talk and move to a 30 per cent greenhouse gas reduction target for 2020."
Campaign groups were disappointed by the outcome. Friends of the Earth said in a statement that the deal was "significant but far too weak to prevent dangerous global warming". Executive director Andy Atkins added: "The UN climate change plan is still alive – but this empty shell of a plan leaves the planet hurtling towards catastrophic climate change. If Durban is to be a historic stepping stone towards success the world must urgently agree ambitious targets to slash emissions."
Atkins' counterpart at Greenpeace, Kumi Naidoo, said: "The chance of averting catastrophic climate change is slipping through our hands with every passing year that nations fail to agree on a rescue plan for the planet. The blockers led 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. And the deal is due to be implemented from 2020 leaving almost no room for increasing the depth of carbon cuts in this decade when scientists say we need emissions to peak. Right now the global climate regime amounts to nothing more than a voluntary deal that's put off for a decade."
Meanwhile the International Maritime Organisation, a UN agency, said the conference had focused on rallying political will for action rather than pushing ahead with the adoption of a legally binding instrument.
As spectacular a failure as anyone could hope for, can we get back to worrying about real problems now?