Delegates from 194 counties to a U.N. climate conference meeting in South Africa have agreed to an accord that would force countries to take action to slow the pace of climate change.
Under the agreement, industrial countries will have to adhere to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol another five years after it expires in 2012. The Protocol legally binds those countries to meeting greenhouse gas-emission targets.
The deal early Sunday came nearly two days after the scheduled close of the two-week conference in Durban.
The United States says it will only pledge binding cuts if all major polluters make comparable commitments. China and India openly oppose the deal, saying they have launched ambitious ecological programs while industrial nations have not lived up to their obligations. The three countries – including the two most populous countries in the world – are not bound by the Kyoto Protocol.
Delegates also agreed to the creation of a fund that will distribute billions of dollars to help poor countries to deal with global warming.
Representatives negotiated well past Friday’s scheduled end to the debate on climate change. Much of the debate focused on the European Union proposal to push major polluters in developed and fast-growing economies, such as China and India, to accept legally binding cuts of their greenhouse gas emissions.
South African Foreign Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, who chaired the conference, had warned delegates that failure to agree would be an unsustainable setback for international efforts to control man-made greenhouse gases largely blamed for climate change and global warming.
“Adopt this document as the Durban outcome. Your years, your months, your weeks, days and nights have been spent leading to this day. You have stayed here one extra day for that purpose. Let’s adopt this document and make all the effort that we have put in this work count for something.”
Recent U.N. reports warned that delays in reducing greenhouse gas emissions will make it harder to prevent a catastrophic rise in average global temperature.
EU Commissioner for Climate Change Connie Hedegaard also has been urging delegates to reach a compromise deal before time runs out. The EU says it will not renew its emission reduction pledges under the Kyoto Protocol unless all countries are committed to controlling their emissions.