Kyoto extension gives time for climate change talks

Coal-burning power plants such as this one in Germany are seen as major contributors to greenhouse gas emissions Keystone

A United Nations climate conference has agreed in Doha to extend the Kyoto Protocol, a treaty that limits the greenhouse gas output of some rich countries including Switzerland but which will only cover about 15 per cent of global emissions.

This content was published on December 8, 2012 - 19:13 and agencies

The extension was adopted in the Qatari capital by nearly 200 countries after hard-fought sessions and despite objections from Russia. The package of decisions also included vague promises of financing to help poor countries cope with climate change.

The Swiss delegation said on Saturday it was partially satisfied with the outcome, adding in a statement that a “minimal result“ had been reached.

“A positive aspect is the decision to continue the Kyoto Protocol […] This means that the only binding international agreement on the reduction of climate-damaging greenhouse gas emissions that existed up to now will be extended to 2020.”

However, the delegation warned that “substantial” efforts would be required to make the transition “towards a climate-compatible and, hence, low-CO2 society and economy.”

Though expectations were low for the two-week conference, many developing countries rejected the deal as insufficient to put the world on track to fight the rising temperatures that are raising sea levels. Some Pacific island nations see this as a threat to their existence.

"This is not where we wanted to be at the end of the meeting, I assure you," said Nauru Foreign Minister Kieren Keke, who leads an alliance of small island states. "It certainly isn't where we need to be in order to prevent islands from going under and other unimaginable impacts."

Missing nations

The 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which controls the greenhouse gas emissions of rich countries, expires this year. It was extended through 2020 to fill the gap until a wider global treaty, mooted last year in Durban, is expected to take effect.

However, the second phase only covers about 15 per cent of global emissions after Canada, Japan, New Zealand and Russia opted out. The European Union, Australia, Norway, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Monaco, Croatia and Iceland are among the signatories.

The United States never joined Kyoto, partly because it didn't include China and other fast-growing developing countries.

Poor countries came into the talks in Doha demanding a timetable on how rich countries would scale up climate change aid for them to $100 billion (SFr94 billion) annually by 2020, a general pledge that was made three years ago.

But rich nations, including the United States, members of the European Union and Japan are still grappling with the effects of a financial crisis and were not interested in detailed talks on aid in Doha.

The agreement on financing made no reference to any mid-term financing targets, just a general pledge to "identify pathways for mobilizing the scaling up of climate finance."

Switzerland said it would continue to provide financial assistance within the established framework and develop it further.

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