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Nations to effect climate change pact in 2020


Developing countries have to continue bearing the effects of global warming for another decade. This is the deal struck at the UN-sponsored climate change summit in Durban, where developed nations reluctantly agreed to address the calamity by 2020.


However, a meaningful agreement to stem the adverse effects of climate change is likely to be stillborn after the world's three largest polluters - China, India and the United States - dragged their feet in moving towards a legally-binding pact to curb carbon emissions.

Efforts to push forward the Kyoto Protocol were led by the European Union, which wants a legal commitment to bring down carbon emissions by 2015, but China and India argued that they were not to blame for historical greenhouse gas emissions, and should not be obliged to shackle their booming economic growth when Western nations had a free hand to develop their economies.

The US, on the other hand, is held back by domestic politics which make it difficult for the Republicans and Democrats to agree on a complex climate deal.

The three countries together make up for nearly half of the global carbon emissions.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon acknowledged that a pact backed by legal force may be out of reach, at least for now.

"A legally-binding comprehensive agreement may not be possible in Durban... But this will have to be our priority," he told the conference.

Reports indicate that the US unexpectedly came out in support of the "road map" that would set out a timetable towards a legally-binding agreement and China gave "encouraging signals".

Environmentalists warn that these piecemeal promises are not enough to make a meaningful difference. Scientific consensus indicates that greenhouse gas emissions need to peak and start falling by 2020, to avoid global temperatures rising above 2 degrees Celsius - the level at which devastating effects of climate change will cause irreversible damage, including the submersion of low-lying islands and coastal cities.

"By 2020, the level of global emissions needs to be down to 44 gigatons. But at this rate, we are likely to see emissions reach 50 gigatons or more," said Nick Nuttal, spokesman of the United Nations Environment Programme.

"Above two degrees Celsius, we risk seeing serious impacts like the drying of the Amazon and Congo River basins," he said.

Developing nations, and Africa in particular, are hardest hit by the vagaries of climate change. A recent report by the Stockholm Environment Institute indicated that future climate change will lead to uncertain but potentially very large economic costs. Aggregate models indicate additional net economic costs, on top of existing climate variability, equivalent to a loss of almost 3 per cent of GDP each year by 2030 in Kenya, for example.

The study also estimated that the immediate needs for addressing the current climatic conditions as well as preparing for future climate change for Kenya is $500 million per year until 2012. By 2030 this will increase to $1 to 2 billion per year.

Booming growth in developing countries is a driving force behind the trend with India rated third polluter in the world, releasing more than 1.5 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year, despite ambitious goals to drastically slash its emissions. China has been rated as the biggest polluter, followed by USA.

The fact that the new treaty will come into force in 2020 means that there will a decade of inaction, according to environmentalists.

"Governments have salvaged a path forward for negotiations, but we must be under no illusion; the outcome of Durban still leaves us with the prospect of being legally bound to a world of global warming," said Keith Allott of WWF-UK.

"This would be catastrophic for people and the natural world."



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