ANALYSIS - Climate talks win lifeline, but may sink in 2012

CANCUN, Mexico Sat Dec 11, 2010 11:31pm IST

A soldier guards the venue of U.N. climate talks in Cancun December 10, 2010. REUTERS/Jorge Silva

A soldier guards the venue of U.N. climate talks in Cancun December 10, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Jorge Silva

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CANCUN, Mexico (Reuters) - A new deal among 190 nations to slow climate change throws a lifeline to U.N.-led talks but they will still struggle to find a deal extending the Kyoto Protocol for cutting carbon emissions beyond 2012.

Most delegates said the main achievement of the two-week conference in Cancun, Mexico was simply to have an agreement, and thereby restore some faith in a damaged U.N. process after a Copenhagen summit in 2009 failed to agree a treaty.

"We have proven that multilateralism can create results," said the European Union's climate commissioner Connie Hedegaard, who led the Copenhagen summit in 2009.

"A lot of people are saying that the ghost of Copenhagen has been exorcised here," said Alden Meyer from the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Saturday's less ambitious deal, reached at marathon overnight talks, comprises a plan to design a Green Climate Fund, measures to protect tropical forests and ways to share clean energy technologies and help developing nations adapt to climate change.

But it largely delays a resolution of key disputes, especially on the future of Kyoto, the existing U.N. pact that obliges about 40 developed nations to begin to cut greenhouse gases.

Kyoto is meant to be extended six months before its first period runs out on June 30, 2012. The pact underpins carbon markets and is meant to foster vast shifts in investments towards cleaner energies.

"It didn't resolve the problem, you're just buying another year," said Meyer.

Japan, Canada and Russia are adamant that they will not extend Kyoto and say that shifting world power -- with the economic rise of China and India -- means that all major emitters should sign up for a completely new treaty to begin in 2013.

"Never is a word that doesn't exist in politics," said Gordon Shepherd of the green group WWF of the prospects of Japan changing its mind and signing up to a second Kyoto round.

Emerging economies say the rich have burnt most fossil fuels since the Industrial Revolution and must continue to lead by extending Kyoto.

The United States is the only industrialized country outside Kyoto, reckoning it was badly designed from the start by omitting binding targets for developing nations. "I am not going to speculate on whether this is the end of the Kyoto Protocol or not," said U.S. climate envoy Todd Stern.

KYOTO

Saturday's deal put off the question of whether to extend the Kyoto Protocol by agreeing to put industrialized countries' pledges in a document separate to the pact, which allowed Japan to avoid commitment to a second round of Kyoto.

That document does not yet exist.

Carbon offset markets worth $20 billion last year depend on Kyoto emissions caps to drive developed countries to pay for cuts in greenhouse gases in developing nations.

The Cancun agreement would "build upon" such markets, giving them some support despite the doubt over Kyoto itself.

And many of the agreements in Cancun -- for instance to set up a "Green Climate Fund" -- echo elements of the Copenhagen Accord which agreed to set up a "Copenhagen Green Climate Fund" -- a project that has got nowhere.

The difference this time is that the Cancun deal has the backing of all U.N. member states, except Bolivia which said it did not do enough to rein in rich nations' emissions, to design the new fund.

By contrast, the Copenhagen Accord had support only of 140 countries. Cancun reaffirmed a goal, originally set in the Copenhagen Accord, of $100 billion in aid a year from 2020.

Among other battles over Cancun, developing nations backed down in a drive to get 1.5 percent of gross domestic product of rich nations in aid -- several hundred billion dollars a year.

Prospects for a binding treaty are remote because Obama faces a Senate hostile to his proposals for climate change legislation.

For Reuters latest environment blogs, click on: blogs.reuters.com/environment/

(Editing by Jackie Frank)

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