19 December 2011
Optimists point out that the Durban Package set up by the conference will, for the first time, bring all greenhouse-gas emitting countries in the world into a common legal regime under UN jurisdiction in 2015, that would force them to cut emissions no later than 2020.
Defying expectations, the Kyoto Protocol has also been extended until 2017, which will "bear in mind different circumstances of developed and developing countries".
The new global legal framework will be decided by 2015 and come into force by 2020. Called the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action, it will "raise levels of ambition" in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
But the world's most poor and low-lying states say that the accords still leave them vulnerable and the targets agreed are not sufficiently aggressive to slow the pace of global warming, which threatens them most.
The agreement does, however, importantly acknowledge that there is a gap between the aggregate level of reduction in emissions of greenhouse gases to be achieved through global mitigation efforts and what is needed to avert dangerous climate change.
To reach the 2deg C target that scientists consider the maximum for containing global warming within manageable limits, emissions, which are currently rocketing, must begin to fall by 8.5% by 2020 compared with 2010.
At the request of the EU and the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), the delegates agreed to launch a work plan to identify options for closing this gap.
Others are more forthright in expressing their disappointment. Those at 350.org described it as being better than "the worst" possible outcome, but it's still a cowardly, unacceptable delay on global climate action -- and a recipe for climate disasters.
"It's certainly not the deal the planet needs - such a deal would have delivered much greater ambition on both emissions reductions and finance," said Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists. He went on to say that "the atmosphere responds to one thing, and one thing only—emissions. The world’s collective level of ambition on emissions reductions must be substantially increased, and soon."
It remains to be seen whether or not the rhetoric, speeches and carefully worded resolutions from Durban will be translated into effective action.