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Climate talks in Durban forge new path on emissions

Delegates to the U.N. climate talks adopted a significant agreement Sunday setting nations on a new path toward an international accord by 2015 to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

The outcome of contentious negotiations taking place in Durban, South Africa, — punctuated by finger-pointing among the world's biggest greenhouse gas emitters and heckling by activists — reflected a fundamental shift in the geopolitics behind global environmental disputes.

Developing countries have long been a unified bloc, demanding that industrialized nations take most of the responsibility for cutting global greenhouse gas emissions. But faced with the fact that a handful of emerging economies — led by China and India — are helping drive carbon emissions to new heights, the world's smallest nations joined forces with the European Union to demand decisive action from their former allies as well as the United States.

The Durban agreement provides countries with the latitude to forge something that would apply to all nations, called an "agreed outcome with legal force," a last-minute compromise that creates a less stringent alternative to a traditional treaty. Several experts said such an agreement would be stronger than the voluntary accords reached last year in Cancun, Mexico.

Jake Schmidt, international climate policy director for the Natural Resources Defense Council, called the agreement "important progress," adding, "this outcome brings large countries like China and India into the room to negotiate meaningful commitments to address the urgent need to cut global emissions."

This year's U.N. meeting took on greater significance because it comes as the world's only existing climate treaty, the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, is reaching the end of its first commitment period.

While the United States had come under fierce criticism, by the end the Obama administration agreed to endorse a process aimed at securing a binding treaty or "legal instrument," a term slightly stronger than the actual final language.

Climate talks in Durban forge new path on emissions 12/11/11 [Last modified: Sunday, December 11, 2011 10:46pm]

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