Copenhagen hailed as first step to combat global warming

The UN climate conference in Copenhagen ended today having approved a deal described by world leaders as a “first step” to tackling global warming.

But it was criticised by campaigners as a failure.

After another all-night session of wrangling among negotiators and officials, the agreement drawn up by leaders attending the much-anticipated talks was finally gavelled through this morning to wide applause in the main conference hall.

The conference decided to “take note” of the accord – and said the document setting out the deal would specify a list of countries which agreed with it, while some nations including Venezuela and Bolivia remained adamant they would not accept it.

The acknowledgement of the accord by the UN conference of more than 190 countries means that provisions for finance contained within it to help poor nations fight global warming can become operational, officials said.

The deal includes references to keeping temperature rises to no more than 2C and immediate funds and finance to the tune of $100bn (€69bn) a year by 2020 for developing countries, – though there were scant details of where the long term funding would come from.

And it has no long-term global targets for emissions cuts or a timetable to turn the agreement into a legally-binding treaty – leading environmental campaigners and aid agencies to brand it toothless.

Environment Minister John Gormley, who attended the talks, said the deal means countries like China and India can continue to grow economically while still reducing their emissions.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said China opposed turning the proposals into a treaty “for the wrong reasons: clinging to their version of what they think international organisations should not do”.

Mr Brown said the deal was a first step but acknowledged there was much further to go to get the ambitious and legally-binding treaty countries such as the UK have been pushing for.

But Mr Brown attempted to brush off suggestions that his intense efforts to lead the case for a deal had ended in failure – insisting it was significant that all countries now backed the 2C target for the first time.

The two weeks of talks have been beset with divisions between rich and poor countries over the issues of who will cut their greenhouse gases and by how much, the scale of the finance deal and whether the actions taken by a country to tackle emissions would be transparent to others.

The EU, the US and China were all looking to each other for greater ambition on cutting emissions, while the US warned the Chinese that a failure to provide information on its actions to tackle climate pollution could be a “deal breaker”.

But much of the time negotiations were stymied by wrangling and debate over process and the shape of a new deal.

Eventually the final accord was brokered in a series of bilateral meetings and talks by a group of up to 30 countries – and appeared to have been sealed after US President Barack Obama turned up unannounced at a discussion between China, India, Brazil and South Africa.

Under the agreement, countries will be able to set out their pledges for the action they plan to take to tackle climate change, in an appendix to the document, and will provide information to other nations on their progress.

Speaking following the formal close of the talks in Copenhagen, a day after they were due to finish, UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon said: “We have sealed the deal. This accord cannot be everything that everyone hoped for, but it is an essential beginning.”

But Kim Carstensen, leader of WWF’s global climate initiative, said: “Well-meant but half-hearted pledges to protect our planet from dangerous climate change are simply not sufficient to address a crisis that calls for completely new ways of collaboration across rich and poor countries.”

The draft Copenhagen Accord is a long way from developing into a legally binding framework for decisive action on climate change, he added.

And Oxfam International spokesman Robert Bailey said: “World leaders had a genuine chance here in Copenhagen to deliver the fair, ambitious and binding deal the world needed.

“But as the deal got cooked up, fairness was taken off the table and ambition watered down. In the early hours of the morning, any hopes of a legally binding deal were stripped out too.”

And he said: “It is too late to save the summit, but it’s not too late to save the planet and its people. We have no choice but to forge forward towards a legally binding deal in 2010. This must be a rapid, decisive and ambitious movement, not business as usual.”

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