New Climate Treaty Mandate Approved, Kyoto Extended

Durban, South Africa – Climate negotiators early Sunday sealed their commitment to negotiate a new long-range climate treaty and approved an extension of the soon-to-expire Kyoto Protocol that limits carbon emissions.

The gridlock in the Durban climate talks appeared to give way late Saturday into a compromise declared by South Africa Foreign Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, after a 24-hour overtime marathon session.

Although details were not clear, the European Union indicated in the first plenary session that it supported a draft version for an extension of the Kyoto Protocol until 2020 – three years beyond the five-year period originally under consideration.

“This is a strong outcome in Durban,” Mashabane said in public remarks, as she appealed for approval of the agreements.

Delegates who were still meeting in closed-door sessions Saturday said they were near a breakthrough, with some compromises about the date of a future treaty to replace the waning Kyoto Protocol on global warming, and compromise about the legal arrangements.

Delegates scrambled at the last minute to re-book flights. The first of a series of final plenary sessions on Saturday, tentatively schedule for 10 a.m. (0800 GMT) finally started at 7:30 p.m. (1730 GMT).

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South African Airways said it would add a special larger plane at 1 p.m. Sunday to help negotiators reach the international transport hub in Johannesburg, a conference organizer announced right before midnight Saturday.

The news brought a round of applause and relief. Thousands were stranded when the extra day on Saturday was added to the meetings at the last minute.

The Durban talks entered their 14th day early Sunday, making them the longest in the 17-year history of climate talks.

The compromise agreement was snatched at the last minute from what many thought would be a collapse of talks, thus avoiding an anticipated postponement of action until next year, when the Kyoto Protocol expires.

European Union Commissioner on Climate Action, Connie Hedegaard, indicated in the first plenary session that the EU supported a draft version for the second period of Kyoto, and she asked for a correction of the document under consideration to cover a longer time period – from January 2013 to December 2020 – instead of the 2013 to 2017 period named in the draft document.

Other delegates, some from Africa, raised objections to the eight-year period, insisting that Kyoto only be extended for five years.

Hedegaard repeated in the plenary session the EU's insistence that its demands for balance in the negotiations was a precondition for backing the Kyoto extension.

She was referring to the tit-for-tat demand by the EU that large carbon producers like the United States and China must commit in Durban to talks for a broader global legally binding climate treaty – the so-called Durban mandate.

It was not clear if the mandate has gained backing by the U.S. and China, which will be considered in a later plenary session.

German Environment Minister Norbert Roettgen, who delayed his flight by a day, said in remarks before the plenary opened that the final negotiations showed the success of the EU's alliance with 100 low-income and island states, which added pressure on the United States, India and China to get on board with a broader treaty.

©2011 Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH (Hamburg, Germany)