Doha climate talks throw lifeline to Kyoto Protocol

Almost 200 nations extended a weakened United Nations plan for combating global warming until 2020 on Saturday with a modest set of measures that would do nothing to halt rising world greenhouse gas emissions.

Many countries and environmentalists said the deal at the end of marathon two-week UN talks in OPEC-member Qatar would fail to slow rising temperatures or avert more floods, droughts, heatwaves and rising sea levels.

Environment ministers extended until 2020 the Kyoto Protocol, which obliges about 35 industrialized nations to cut their greenhouse gas emissions until the end of 2012. That keeps the pact alive as the sole legally binding climate plan.

But the 1997 treaty has been sapped by the withdrawal of Russia, Japan and Canada and its remaining backers, led by the European Union and Australia, now account for just 15 percent of world greenhouse gas emissions.

"Much, much more is needed if we are really going to address climate change and reduce emissions," said Kieren Keke, foreign minister of the Pacific island state of Nauru on behalf of the Alliance of Small Island States.

Endless talk would condemn islands to disappear as seas crept higher, he said. Most nations favored keeping even a shrunken Kyoto as a blueprint for future action.

Not beautiful

"It was not an easy ride. It was not a beautiful ride. It was not a fast ride, but we managed to cross the bridge and hopefully we can increase our speed," European Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard said.

She said the deal would pave the way to talks on a new, global UN pact meant be agreed in 2015 and enter into force in 2020, when Kyoto now expires. It will have emissions goals for all, including emerging nations led by China and India.

Environmentalists were unimpressed by the set of deals called the "Doha Climate Gateway."

"The UN climate talks failed to deliver increased cuts to carbon pollution, nor did they provide any credible pathway to US$100 billion per year in finance by 2020 to help the poorest countries," the Climate Action Network-International said.

The texts merely encouraged developed nations to raise aid from a current $10 billion a year from 2010-12 to help the poor cut emissions and adapt to a changing climate.

Some major nations voiced objections as soon as the applause ended in the final plenary on Saturday night. US Climate Envoy Todd Stern said Washington could not accept a reference to a 1992 UN climate Convention in one text.

And Russia said it opposed the terms for extending the Kyoto Protocol beyond 2012. Russia wanted less stringent limits on unused carbon emissions permits, known as hot air.

"This is something that has seriously undermined the efforts of the international community to combat climate change," acting head of the Russian delegation Oleg Shamanov told Reuters.

World carbon dioxide emissions are set to rise by 2.6 percent this year, and are about 58 percent higher than in 1990. Recent growth has come mostly from emerging nations, led by China and India.

One decision raised the possibility of a new "mechanism" to help developing nations cope with losses and damage from everything from hurricanes to a creeping rise in sea levels.

"Doha delivered just enough to keep the process moving. By resolving the key issues, all countries are now on a single track to enter into a new international climate agreement by 2015," said Jennifer Morgan of the World Resources Institute.

Kyoto obliged about 35 industrialized nations to cut greenhouse gas emissions by an average of at least 5.2 percent below 1990 levels during the period from 2008 to 2012.

The European Union, for instance, says it will deepen its cut to at least 20 percent below 19990 levels by 2020.

Kyoto would have expired at the end of 2012 without an extension. The nations pulling out — Russia, Japan and Canada — say it is meaningless to take on new targets when emerging nations have none. And Washington never ratified the pact.

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