Countries agreed a deal today to push for a new climate treaty, salvaging the latest round of United Nations climate talks from the brink of collapse.
The deal, finally struck in the early hours after talks had overrun by a day and a half, has been hailed as a “significant step forward” which would deliver a global, overarching legal agreement to cut emissions.
But environmental groups said negotiators had failed to show the ambition necessary to cut emissions by levels that would limit global temperature rises to no more than 2C and avoid “dangerous” climate change.
The EU had come to the talks in Durban, South Africa, calling for a mandate to negotiate a new legally binding treaty on global warming by 2015, covering all major emitters, in return for the bloc signing up to a second period of emissions cuts under the existing Kyoto climate deal.
But in a surprise move yesterday evening, options for the new legal deal had been watered down to add a “legal outcome” to the existing possibilities of a “protocol or another legal instrument” – the language which was used in the mandate for negotiating the Kyoto Protocol.
European ministers warned they could not accept the weakened deal, but India led the countries pushing for it, claiming they could not sign up to negotiate a legally-binding deal without knowing what would be in it or if it would be fair to poorer countries.
The deal was reached after the South African president of the talks urged the EU and India to go “into a huddle” in the middle of the conference hall in the early hours of this morning, in a bid to work out language both sides were happy with.
A compromise, suggested by the Brazilian delegation, saw the EU and Indians agree to a road map which commits countries to negotiating a protocol, another legal instrument or an “agreed outcome with legal force”.
The treaty will be negotiated by 2015 and coming into force from 2020.
The deal also paves the way for action to address the “emissions gap” between the voluntary emissions cuts countries have already pledged and the reductions experts say are needed to effectively tackle climate change.
Keith Allott, Head of Climate Change at WWF-UK, said: “Governments have salvaged a path forward for negotiations, but we must be under no illusion – the outcome of Durban leaves us with the prospect of being legally bound to a world of 4C warming.
“This would be catastrophic for people and the natural world. Governments have spent crucial days focused on a handful of specific words in the negotiating text, but have paid little heed to repeated warnings from the scientific community that much stronger, urgent action is needed to cut emissions.”
He welcomed the EU’s role in a “high ambition coalition” of countries including the small island states and some of the poorest nations in the world, but urged Europe to show leadership by increasing its promise to cut emissions by 20% by 2020 to 30%.
Greenpeace International’s executive director Kumi Naidoo said: “Right now the global climate regime amounts to nothing more than a voluntary deal that’s put off for a decade.
“This could take us over the two degree threshold where we pass from danger to potential catastrophe.”
Also agreed at the Durban talks was the establishment of a green climate fund to channel billions of pounds to poor countries to help them cope with impacts of global warming such as floods and drought - but no sources of money were found.
Rich countries have pledged $100bn (€75bn) a year by 2020 for developing countries to deal with climate change and develop without polluting.
Campaigners say the funding to help some of the world’s most vulnerable people is particularly important if emissions reductions in the next decade and action after 2020 are not sufficient to keep long term temperature rises to no more than 2C.