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Climate pact injects symbolic life into Kyoto

A UN climate conference on Saturday extended the life of the Kyoto Protocol, the only binding pact on curbing greenhouse gas emissions, in a small but symbolic victory in the fight against global warming.

world Updated: Dec 09, 2012 00:25 IST

A UN climate conference on Saturday extended the life of the Kyoto Protocol, the only binding pact on curbing greenhouse gas emissions, in a small but symbolic victory in the fight against global warming.

It took much haggling and many hours of lost sleep in the Qatari capital to arrive at the deal on interim measures to rein in climate change pending a new, global pact due to take effect in 2020.

An extension of Kyoto was finally approved with the 27-member European Union, Australia, Switzerland and eight other industrialised nations signing up for binding emission cuts by 2020.

They represent about 15 percent of global emissions.

The protocol locks in only developed nations, excluding major developing polluters such as China and India, as well as the United States which refuses to ratify it.

In practice, observers say the extension of the protocol will make little difference to pollution levels as it covered only about 15 percent of global emissions and its signatories had their own legislated targets anyway.

"It is a modest but essential step forward," European climate commissioner Connie Hedegaard said at the conclusion of talks that had continued throughout Friday night and ran a whole day into extra time.

After 12 days of tough haggling that ran aground almost from the start, conference chairman Abdullah bin Hamad al-Attiyah finally rushed through the package he dubbed the Doha Climate Gateway.

He had earlier urged delegates to seek consensus and not "open the box of Pandora again because we will never finish" -- a warning that was all but ignored as Attiyah was left waiting in the plenary hall for more than four hours.

The vice prime minister rode roughshod over countries' objections on Saturday evening as he swung the gavel in quick succession and proclaimed: "It is so decided."

Observers said Russia had been unhappy with aspects of the deal on Kyoto, whose first leg expires on December 31.

Moscow objected to the passing of the package, and noted in the plenary meeting that it had the right to appeal the president's action.

The latest round of UN climate talks, notorious for dragging out way beyond their scheduled close as negotiators held out to the very last in a poker-like game of oneupmanship, deadlocked on financing and "hot air" carbon credits.

"Hot air" is the name given to greenhouse gas emission quotas that countries were allotted under the first leg of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol and did not use -- some 13 billion tonnes in total.

These can be sold to nations battling to meet their own quotas, meaning that greenhouse gas levels decrease on paper but not in reality.

Poland and Russia hold many of these credits, having emitted much less than their lenient quotas, and insisted in Doha on being allowed to bank the difference beyond 2012 -- a move most other parties vehemently opposed.

The package deal does allow the credits to be banked, but most potential markets, including the EU, Australia and Japan, stipulated in the document that they would not be buying -- one of the things that apparently angered Russia.

The package includes agreement on scaling up funding to help poor countries deal with global warming and convert to planet-friendlier energy sources -- but does not list any figures.

Financing had been another key area of dispute, with developed nations under pressure to show how they intend to keep a promise to raise climate funding for poorer nations to $100 billion (76 billion euros) per year by 2020 -- up from a total of $30 billion in 2010-2012.

Developing countries say they need at least another $60 billion between now and 2015 -- starting with $20 billion from next year -- to deal with a climate change-induced rise in droughts, floods, rising sea levels and storms.

The United States and European Union have refused to put concrete figures on the table for 2013-2020.

Another point of dispute was a demand by least developed countries and those most at risk of sea level rise that provision be made for the losses they suffer because of climate change -- a phenomenon they blame on the West's polluting ways since the industrial era.

NGOs and delegates have expressed frustration at the slow pace of negotiations that coincided with a slew of fresh scientific warnings that the Earth faces a calamitous future of more frequent extreme weather.