Climate talks end with late deal

Delegates and negotiators discuss the latest draft report in Durban, 10 December Elements of the draft text caused much discussion

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UN climate talks have closed with an agreement that the chair said had "saved tomorrow, today".

The European Union will place its current emission-cutting pledges inside the legally-binding Kyoto Protocol, a key demand of developing countries.

Talks on a new legal deal covering all countries will begin next year and end by 2015, coming into effect by 2020.

Management of a fund for climate aid to poor countries has also been agreed, though how to raise the money has not.

Talks ran nearly 36 hours beyond their scheduled close, with many delegates saying the host government lacked urgency and strategy.

Nevertheless, there was applause in the main conference hall when South Africa's International Relations Minister, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, brought down the long-awaited final gavel.

"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," she said.

"We have made history."

The conclusion was delayed by a dispute between the EU and India over the precise wording of the "roadmap" for a new global deal.

Start Quote

While they develop, we die; and why should we accept this?”

End Quote Karl Hood Foreign Minister of Grenada

India did not want a specification that it must be legally binding.

Eventually, a Brazilian diplomat came up with the formulation that the deal must have "legal force", which proved acceptable.

The roadmap proposal originated with the EU, the Alliance of Small Island States (Aosis) and the Least Developed Countries bloc (LDCs).

They argued that only a new legal agreement eventually covering emissions from all countries - particularly fast-growing major emitters such as China - could keep the rise in global average temperatures since pre-industrial times below 2C (3.6F), the internationally-agreed threshold.

"If there is no legal instrument by which we can make countries responsible for their actions, then we are relegating countries to the fancies of beautiful words," said Karl Hood, Grenada's Foreign Minister, speaking for Aosis.

"While they develop, we die; and why should we accept this?"

Impassioned arguments

Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, president of the talks: "No one can walk out of this room and say we don't care about climate change"

Delegates from the Basic group - Brazil, South Africa, India and China - criticised what they saw as a tight timetable and excessive legality.

"I stand firm on my position of equity," said an impassioned Jayanthi Natarajan, India's environment minister.

"This is not about India, it is about the entire world."

India believes in maintaining the current stark division where only countries labelled "developed" have to cut their greenhouse gas emissions.

Western nations, she said, have not cut their own emissions as they had pledged; so why should poorer countries have to do it for them?

Xie Zhenhua, head of the Chinese delegation, agreed.

Apparently trembling with rage, he berated the developed countries: "We are doing things you are not doing... we want to see your real actions".

However, Bangladesh and some other developing countries weighed in on the side of Aosis, saying a new legally-binding deal was needed.

Aosis and the LDCs agree that rich countries need to do more.

But they also accept analyses concluding that fast-developing countries such as China will need to cut their emissions several years in the future if governments are to meet their goal of keeping the rise in global average temperature since pre-industrial times below 2C.

Once the roadmap blockage had been cleared, everything else followed quickly.

Climate change glossary
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Action that helps cope with the effects of climate change - for example construction of barriers to protect against rising sea levels, or conversion to crops capable of surviving high temperatures and drought.

There were some surreal moment of confusion, but few objections, except from members of the Latin American Alba group, who said the developed world was not living up to its promises.

Green fund

A management framework was adopted for the Green Climate Fund, which will eventually gather and disburse finance amounting to $100bn (£64bn) per year to help poor countries develop cleanly and adapt to climate impacts.

There has also been significant progress on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD).

Environment groups were divided in their reaction, with some finding it a significant step forward and others saying it had done nothing to change the course of climate change.

Many studies indicate that current pledges on reducing emissions are taking the Earth towards a temperature rise of double the 2C target.

Michael Jacobs, visiting professor at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment in London, said the agreement could bring real changes.

"The agreement here has not in itself taken us off the 4C path we are on," he said.

"But by forcing countries for the first time to admit that their current policies are inadequate and must be strengthened by 2015, it has snatched 2C from the jaws of impossibility.

"At the same time it has re-established the principle that climate change should be tackled through international law, not national, voluntarism."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 129.

    116. Yes, there are other reasons why Venus is hellish, like the sulphuric acid in its atmosphere - do you really expect a full and detailed analysis in a small post? Clearly though, you would not want an atmosphere that is about 90% CO2! I don't understand why skeptics are trying to muddy the water. We should regulate CO2 precisely because we don't yet know how much is harmful. It's simple!

  • rate this

    Comment number 128.

    I tend to disagree with the idea that continued carbon consumption at current rates will destroy ALL life on earth. The earth has been through a lot worse in the past and life was/will be sustained.
    Signs do however, strongly suggest that there will be a huge many negative impacts the worst for humans being a large reduction of water resource, food production plus creating vast climate migration.

  • rate this

    Comment number 127.

    Do people here really think they are zinging each other with scientific arguments ? This is the BBC website, not a scientific journal. If you have a scientific argument to make then publish it in the form of a paper in a reputable journal such as "Nature". There are 194 nations acting on the IPCC report so if you don't believe the science, then the onus is on you to publish and change the science.

  • rate this

    Comment number 126.

    Let us sincerely hope that these talks fail and that no agreement is reached. The proposals so far are nothing short of disastrous - and yet they are being backed by our own shameful "Climate Change" minister.

  • rate this

    Comment number 125.

    119. Yes, there are grey areas and technical complexities and many papers published are simply wrong. This is precisely my point - it is not wise to wait for science to resolve these complex issues, we do know that too much of any gas in the atmosphere can be a serious and potentially lethal problem, and we should regulate all emissions. Why complicate the issue? What can such skepticism achieve?

  • rate this

    Comment number 124.

    it's FASCINATING how so many anti-global-warming comments havve been REMOVED from this discussion, leaving mainly the pro-global-warming comments for posterity

  • rate this

    Comment number 123.

    We live in a globalised world; China makes the iPhones etc that we buy, so the emissions produced in making those products are our responsibility too. We are all effectively part of the same global economic system

  • rate this

    Comment number 122.

    Regarding asymptotic saturation of IR absorption by CO2, for example, I would need to see a paper that not only supplied empirical data, but which also provided a sound physical explanation. As a scientist with sufficient foundation I would be able to determine the likelihood of such a theoretical mechanism. Like any good scientist, I would not take a peer-reviewed paper as an article of faith.

  • rate this

    Comment number 121.

    Face it Richard. Everyone knows the climate is refusing to obey the prophesies of the doomsayers. Governments around the world have more pressing concerns. They won't admit they were deluded by the eco-loons, but they're happy to send junior officials on a jolly to procrastinate in pleasant surroundings.

  • rate this

    Comment number 120.


    You are correct that CO2 lags warming in the paleoclimate record, and the reason is well known.

    Natural warming from orbitial positioning (Milankovitch cycles) heats the oceans. Warm water holds less CO2 than cold water so the oceans outgas CO2. That CO2 then causes further warming, thus magnifying the original warming:

    This time the CO2 is coming first.

  • rate this

    Comment number 119.

    I have avoided the grey and complex areas in my debate.

    An inconvenient truth indeed

    And the pseudoscience behind Mann's famous graph, or his dubious methodology, and ignoring some very important phenomena.
    I'd like to know how he's managed to cling on to his qualifications.

  • rate this

    Comment number 118.

    The environmental crisis is like a biblical plague, affecting Africa and Pakistan.

    However all we seem to care about right now is the EU money crisis. If this means the burning of more fossil fuels to fuel business activity, then we think "what the heck."

    More Western+ Chinese business activity = More environmental catastrophes for Africa and Pakistan.

    Do we honestly care enough about this?

  • rate this

    Comment number 117.

    I don't have a Phd etc but IMHO to put trust solely in the scientific or political community is pure folly. History speaks volumes for that.

    Man has had a chance to look after a precious Jewel and whether the science backs global warming or not is irrelevant , our moral compasses if pointing in the RIGHT direction should make clear our responsibilities.


  • rate this

    Comment number 116.

    #52: "Venus is a hellish world because it has very high CO2 levels."

    Nothing to do with Venus' 90x Earth's atmospheric pressure then?

    #75: Who's arguing the basics? There's a LOT more to it than the IR absorption/emission of CO2 molecules - but I suspect you already knew that. Stop erecting straw men.

  • rate this

    Comment number 115.

    So sad to see some of the commentators on here, who have no qualifications in science (possibly none at all judging by their spelling).

    The world is in crisis. The science behind manmade climate change is vast - and the only people who say otherwise are right-wingers who are too foolish to admit they've been reading the corporate spin all their lives.

  • rate this

    Comment number 114.

    109. Sometimes the peer-review process does fail in the way you suggest. However, each journal editor selects their own reviewers, so no one body can conspire to squash all publications. Independent scientists can read the literature and see what is valid and where the gaps are. Papers may disagree, but a verifiable consensus emerges. I have avoided the grey and complex areas in my debate.

  • rate this

    Comment number 113.

    I only hope someone is 'taking notes' on the people who deny CC/GW and when the time comes,perhaps sooner than you think, (do you honestly think 'if' the govs knew they would tell you outright?) no help will be given to those 'King Canutes'!

  • rate this

    Comment number 112.

    #9. Maxmet "Anglian Water is already in drought. That will worsen = soaring water and food prices. Air-con in homes and cars = energy costs. Refugees from frying counties flooding to the UK = increased benefits. Food shortage = increased wars. Good luck getting ready for that."

    Not luck - good planning. That's what we NEED. Greed in China/India/Brazil/US mean it can't be stopped - IT IS COMING.

  • rate this

    Comment number 111.

    My argument is that an excess of ANY gas in our atmosphere, above some threshold (undetermined for CO2) would indeed damage and eventually destroy life on Earth. That is a simple fact. It is therefore prudent to regulate all emissions. I am not arguing that catastrophe is imminent, but it could be, we just don't know. Politicians should stop exploiting this, and skeptics should stop ignoring it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 110.

    97 - I DID read that, and will look it up again. IIRC, in summary it said we had a lot to worry about.


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