COPENHAGEN – The U.N. climate conference narrowly escaped collapse Saturday as bitterly divided delegates agreed after all-night talks to recognize a political compromise that President Barack Obama brokered with China and other emerging powers.
The Copenhagen Accord was bogged down for hours by protests from delegates who felt they were excluded from the process or said the deal didn't go far enough in cutting the greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming.
After a break, the conference president gaveled a decision to "take note" of the agreement instead of formally approving it. Experts said that clears the way for the accord to begin even though it was not formally approved by the conference.
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"We have a deal in Copenhagen," U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said, adding "this is just the beginning" of a process to craft a binding pact to reduce emissions.
Disputes between rich and poor countries and between the world's biggest carbon polluters — China and the U.S. — dominated the two-week conference in Copenhagen, the largest and most important U.N. meeting ever on fighting global warming.
Obama met twice with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao — once privately and once with other leaders — in hopes of sweeping aside some of the disputes that had blocked progress.
The U.S. president appeared to have salvaged the faltering talks Friday when he declared a "breakthrough" with China, India, Brazil and South Africa. But the three-page document they agreed upon ran into trouble in the plenary, where delegates from Bolivia, Cuba, Sudan and Venezuela denounced it.
Decisions are made by consensus in U.N. climate negotiations.
Obama's day of hectic diplomacy produced a document promising $30 billion in emergency climate aid to poor nations in the next three years and a goal of eventually channeling $100 billion a year by 2020 to developing countries.
It includes a method for verifying each nation's reductions of heat-trapping gases — a key demand by Washington, because China has resisted international efforts to monitor its actions.
It requires industrial countries to list their individual targets and developing countries to list what actions they will take to cut global warming pollution by specific amounts. Obama called that an "unprecedented breakthrough."
The document said carbon emissions should be reduced enough to keep the increase in average global temperatures below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), but it omits the usual reference to pre-industrial levels. Without that language, the starting point for limiting temperatures would be 0.7 degrees C higher — the amount of warming in modern times.
However, some of the most vulnerable nations believe the limit should be held to a no more than 1.5 degree C rise.
Since leaders failed to agree on a binding deal to reduce greenhouse gases, delegates also scrapped a plan to protect the world's biologically rich tropical forests early Saturday that would have paid some 40 poor, tropical countries to protect their forests.
Deforestation for logging, cattle grazing and crops has made Indonesia and Brazil the world's third- and fourth-biggest carbon emitters.
The overall outcome was a significant disappointment to those who had anticipated the deal brokered by Obama would be turned into a legally binding treaty. Instead, it envisions another year of negotiations and leaves myriad details yet to be decided.
"The deal is a triumph of spin over substance. It recognizes the need to keep warming below 2 degrees but does not commit to do so. It kicks back the big decisions on emissions cuts and fudges the issue of climate cash," said Jeremy Hobbs, executive director of Oxfam International.
Sudan's delegate, Lumumba Di-Aping, said the agreement would condemn Africa to widespread deaths from global warming and compared it to Nazis sending "6 million people into furnaces" in the Holocaust. The African Union, however, backed the deal and his statement was denounced by other delegations.
To resolve the stalemate early Saturday, U.N. officials changed the way the text was presented to the plenary. The conference recognized the agreement and those who agreed with it were invited to sign it.
Robert Orr, the U.N. policy coordination chief, said the conference's decision to "take note" of the U.S.-led accord provides it with "equal legal validity as 'accepted.'"
One reason it's been "a very wild roller coaster ride," he said, was the unusual negotiating process involving the hands-on participation of officials on multiple levels, ranging from heads of state to ministers to negotiators.
If the countries had waited to reach a full, binding agreement, "then we wouldn't make any progress," Obama said. In that case, he said, "there might be such frustration and cynicism that rather than taking one step forward, we ended up taking two steps back."
Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama called the deal "a major step forward." German Chancellor Angela Merkel, a leading proponent of strong action to confront global warming, gave the Copenhagen Accord only grudging acceptance, saying she had "mixed feelings" about the outcome and called it only a first step.
Outside the conference hall Saturday, more than 100 protesters chanted, "You're destroying our future!" Some carried signs of Obama with the words "climate shame" pasted on his face.
Obama had planned to spend only about nine hours in Copenhagen but, as an agreement appeared within reach, he extended his stay Friday by more than six hours to attend a series of meetings. He and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton held talks with European leaders, including Merkel, Britain's Gordon Brown and French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
Obama said there was a "fundamental deadlock in perspectives" between big, industrially developed countries like the United States and poorer, though sometimes large, developing nations like China, India and Brazil. Still he said this week's efforts "will help us begin to meet our responsibilities to leave our children and grandchildren a cleaner planet."
The deal reflects some progress helping poor nations cope with climate change and getting China to disclose its actions to address the warming problem.
But Obama agreed the world would have to take more aggressive steps to combat global warming. The first step, he said, is to build trust between developed and developing countries.
In a diatribe against the U.S., Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez criticized the conference as undemocratic.
"There is a document that has been moving around, all sorts of documents that have been moving around, there is a real lack of transparency here," he said Friday. "We reject any document that Obama will slip under the door."
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