Over 190 countries agreed at the UN-led talks in Bali on Saturday to launch negotiations on a new pact to fight global warming after a reversal by the United States allowed a historic breakthrough.
Head of the US delegation Paula Dobriansky said that 20 hours after the scheduled end of the conference, her country did not want to stand in the way of agreement. The Bali meeting approved a "roadmap" for two years of talks to adopt a new treaty to succeed the Kyoto Protocol beyond 2009, widening it to the US and developing nations such as China and India.
Under the deal, a successor pact will be agreed on at a meeting in Copenhagen in late 2009. A sticking point was whether the guidelines should mention scientific evidence about the need for emission cuts of 25 to 40 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020.
India and China had also raised last-minute objections to the accord, which would for the first time have required developing countries to accept emissions reduction commitments.
India wanted countries to set their own targets, allowing it to limit the impact of the regulations on its economy. China was seeking new consultations outside of the plenary session.
The controversy centred on whether developing country emissions-reduction measures should be called "actions" or "contributions".
Munir Akram, who leads the main negotiating bloc of developing countries, the G77, said developing countries had come under "strong pressure and even faced threats" of trade sanctions to also accept mandatory emission reduction commitments that he called "unfair and unjust".
Developing countries are not required to accept emission reduction commitments under the Kyoto Protocol, and they say that any such commitments would cramp economic growth. In this context, the G77 has been resisting concerted efforts from some developed countries to press for a comprehensive new agreement.
Science and Technology Minister Kapil Sibal reiterated the unity of the G77 on this position, saying, "We don't want to come out of here diluting the content of the convention and the protocol...that is at the centre of our position."
Laying out the Indian position, Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon said in New Delhi earlier in the week that while the major responsibility for the accumulation of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere lies with the developed countries, its adverse affects are felt most severely by developing countries like India.
"When we speak of 'shared responsibility', it must include the international community's shared responsibility to ensure the right to development of the developing countries. Development is the best form of adaptation to climate change," Menon added.
The conference was scheduled to end Friday, but wrangling over targets for cutting world greenhouse emissions continued until well into the night before the agreement was reached. While the European Union, supported by most developing nations, was aggressively pushing for the 25 to 40 per cent target range to be included in the text, it was being opposed by the US, Canada, Japan and Australia, which say any mention of numbers will prejudge the negotiations.
In an attempt to break the deadlock, the conference president, Indonesian Environment Minister Rachmat Witoelar, proposed revised language dropping the numbers but still reaffirming that emissions should be reduced at least by half by 2050.
The Kyoto Protocol, which requires 36 industrial nations to cut greenhouse gas emissions by five per cent below 1990 levels, is to end in 2012. The US is the only rich nation, which has not ratified the protocol.