Delegates to United Nations climate talks in Doha agreed Saturday to extend the Kyoto Protocol, a pact that aims to curb greenhouse gas emissions from industrialized nations but will cover only about 15 percent of the world's carbon output.
The outcome of the two-week negotiations, which nearly collapsed in their final hours in a dispute over how to compensate poor countries for the losses they will suffer as the result of climate change, underscored the challenge policymakers face in confronting global warming. The hard decisions were put off, including how much major developing countries such as China and India will commit to cutting their greenhouse gas emissions and to what extent the richest nations will assist vulnerable ones over the next decade.
European Commissioner for Climate Action Connie Hedegaard hailed the fact that nearly 200 countries agreed on a framework for negotiating a pact over the next three years, which will take effect in 2020.
"It was not an easy and comfortable ride," she said in a statement. "But we have managed to cross the bridge. Very intense negotiations lie ahead of us. What we need now is more ambition and more speed."
Nauru's minister of foreign affairs, Kieren Keke, who chairs the Alliance of Small Island States, lambasted some of his fellow delegates. "Much, much more is needed if we are to save this process from being simply a process for the sake of process; a process that simply provides for talk and no action; a process that locks in the death of our nations, our people, and our children," said Keke.
Fred Boltz, senior vice president for international policy at the advocacy group Conservation International, said in a statement, "Nobody expected a major breakthrough to happen at this summit, but there has been virtually no meaningful progress on any important issue."
While the European Union agreed to conduct another set of emissions cuts between 2013 and 2020 under the Kyoto Protocol, several nations, including Canada, Japan, Russia and New Zealand, declined to join them.
Both academics and environmentalists described the extension of Kyoto as insufficient in terms of reducing the world's growing carbon emissions, which could raise global temperatures by as much as 7.2 degrees by 2100, according to several studies.
Rebecca Lefton, an international climate policy analyst at the Center for American Progress, said the talks' modest result meant countries would have to work in the near term to cut emissions in other ways, such as curbing methane, black carbon and other contributors to climate change.
One of the contentious points in the talks was how much rich countries would give poor ones to cope with climate change: A handful of countries, primarily European ones, have pledged between $5 billion and $6 billion over the next three years.
Developing countries pushed for the establishment of a "loss and damage" fund that would compensate them for the impact of extreme weather events. The United States resisted this idea, and in the end delegates called for "institutional arrangements, such as an international mechanism" to address the issue.
Alden Meyer of the advocacy group Union of Concerned Scientists said representatives from some vulnerable nations were so upset about the dispute that they emerged from a meeting early Saturday "on the verge of tears. I've never seen anything like it."
This year's talks did not provide as much of a public spectacle as earlier ones, largely because protesters were not allowed in the conference center in Qatar.
"No people in polar bear suits, no passionate youth doing skits, no melting ice sculptures," wrote Environmental Defense Fund's international climate program director Jennifer Haverkamp in an e-mail. "Without that infusion of energy — not to mention accountability — there just wasn't the usual level of urgency."