In a set of decisions alternately hailed as an historic breakthrough and derided as woefully insufficient, negotiators from around the world announced Sunday morning the agreements they had forged during the previous two weeks at the United Nations climate change conference in Durban.
Among the accord’s key elements: an extension of the Kyoto Protocol, the only current legally binding commitment binding nations to curb carbon emissions.
The second commitment period will start on January 1, 2013, thereby avoiding a gap between the first period’s expiration and the second’s resumption.
Another major point was a commitment to develop a comprehensive global plan as soon as possible, and by 2015 the latest, to reduce emissions. to reduce emissions that would take effect in 2020.
The parties also agreed to make operational a fund for developing nations that would start paying $100 billion annually starting in 2020 to support efforts combating climate change.
Initially approved in Cancun in December 2010, the fund is set to receive pledges from a number of countries like Korea.
These decisions and others prompted praise from people intimately involved with the often grueling process that ended on Sunday morning, close to two days after originally scheduled.
“We have taken crucial steps forward for the common good and the global citizenry today,” said Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, South African Minister of International Relations and Cooperation and President of the Durban UN Climate Change Conference (COP17/CMP7). “I believe that what we have achieved in Durban will play a central role in saving tomorrow, today.”
Cristiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, concurred with Nkoana-Mashabane.
“I salute the countries who made this agreement,” Figueres said. “They have all laid aside some cherished objectives of their own to meet a common purpose – a long-term solution to climate change. I sincerely thank the South African Presidency who steered through a long and intense conference to a historic agreement that has met all major issues.”
Nkoana-Mashabane invoked history before the grueling negotiations’ final push, noting that Friday marked exactly 50 years since Chief Albert Luthuli, who lived north of Durban, received the Nobel Peace Prize.
But others were far less impressed.
Former Bolivian top negotiatior Pablo Solon took aim at the developed countries like the United States, Europe, Japan and Russia, saying on Democracy Now that they are “just just trying to avoid their responsibility when it comes to greenhouse emissions cuts. So, that is the real outcome out of Durban, and that is why there is so much concern around the world, because, especially the developing countries, the poor nations, and the poor people around the world, even in the United States, are going to be those ones that are going to suffer the consequences of this. That is why we call it a climate apartheid.”
Governments themselves acknowledged that the current sum of pledges to cut emissions both from developed and developing countries is not high enough to keep the global average temperature rise below two degrees Celsius, according to a UNFCCC press release.
As a result, countries will become more ambitious in their emissions reduction goals. Their actions will led by the International Panel on Climate Change’s First Assessment Report and the global review process that will take place from 2013 to 2015.
The next major UNFCCC Climate Change Conference, COP 18, will take place November 26 to December 7, 2012, in Qatar. South Korea will cooperate closely with the host nation.