Late-night negotiations at the climate talks in Durban resulted in 194 countries — including the European Union, the United States, China and India — agreeing to develop a global treaty by 2015, which will cut emissions by 2020.

Currently the treaty is no more than a pledge, a promise to work towards a legally binding plan to cut emissions. But it’s the most significant achievement to come out of the UN climate talks in years.

Talks were extended a day to ensure an agreement was reached, which includes the establishment of a Green Climate Fund worth billions to help developing countries fight climate change.

“It’s worth noting that the alternative was not a binding agreement to stabilise at 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees F) warming, but a complete collapse of the international negotiating process,” notes Joseph Romm at Grist.

European Union climate chief Connie Hedegaard designed the plan and has been widely applauded for her instrumental work in getting global agreement. As host of the Copenhagen climate talks, Hedegaard had seen failure before and demanded a resolution this time, explains Fiona Harvey in The Guardian:

“Hedegaard’s roadmap was crafted in the back offices of the European commission, and she embarked on private meetings with ministers in big and small countries. In October, she had it rubber-stamped by the EU member states.

Despite the battering she received in the conference — from Indian and Chinese ministers, who attacked the EU for trying to strongarm them — she held her nerve. Up to the last moment, negotiators for other countries were briefing that the EU would cave in, and concede that an agreement was not possible.”

Another UN climate summit, another trail of disillusion left, writes John Broder in The New York Times:

“The decision to move towards a new treaty — and towards replacing the 20-year-old system that requires only industrialised nations to cut emissions — was hard-won, after 72 hours of continuous wrangling. But for now it remains merely a pledge, and all details remain to be negotiated.”

It’s those with unrealistic expectations who were left disappointed by Durban, writes Adam Morton in The Age:

“Those unrealistically expecting it to quickly do what the UN talks set out to do — turn around rising greenhouse gas emissions to limit global warming to 2 degrees — would be disappointed. Those hoping that the climate talks, still recovering from the failure of the hyped Copenhagen summit, would make some small progress were pleasantly surprised. That surprise would have been even more pleasant if the ‘Durban platform’ came with a little more clarity.”

So many future decisions depend on whether China pushes for a green economy or a high emissions one, writes Der Spiegel:

“At first glance, the climate negotiations may appear to be gatherings of technocrats who are supposed to deal with the consequences of the pollution caused by our prosperous industrial society. But that is only true at first glance. In reality, the summits are about a much larger question: the role China will play as the new superpower in the coming years and decades.”

The fact that already developed countries are committing to spend billions to help countries that are well on the road to economic gain will become more and more ridiculous, argues Alan Kohler in Business Spectator:

“But at least at COP 18 in Qatar next year, Greg Combet, or whoever has replaced him, will be Action Man, representing the only government who Done Something, and is Ahead Of The Game. This is not necessarily a bad thing — our reliance on brown coal for cheap electricity means we are coming from a long way behind and do need to start early.”

Peter Fray

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