UN climate change talks have been saved from the brink of collapse by a "weak" agreement that could let countries dodge setting clear targets to cut their emissions.
Negotiations in the Peruvian capital Lima dragged on to the early hours of yesterday morning - a day and a half after their scheduled close - amid deep disagreements between rich and poor nations over the steps they should take to tackle global warming. The divisions had threatened to derail the talks altogether but eventually resulted in a "bare minimum" deal, thrashed out by delegates who had barely slept in three days, that left many key disputes unresolved.
The Lima deal is intended to make countries issue national pledges next year outlining the action they will take to cut their carbon emissions.
The pledges are then supposed to form the basis of a binding deal at talks in Paris next year to avert dangerous levels of global warming.
Rich nations including the USA and EU members had pushed for all countries to be bound by strict rules to ensure that their pledges gave clear and measurable data - akin to the UK's Climate Change Act.
But after objections from developing nations, the eventual text was watered down so the rules are voluntary. "It's totally up to you now whether you provide that information or not," Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists said. "It's the bare minimum we needed to come out of here with; it's not what we hoped for."
Samantha Smith, of environmental group WWF, said the rules had gone from "weak to weaker to weakest". Ed Davey, the UK energy and climate change secretary, insisted he was "completely relaxed" about the watered down rules, claiming that countries would have to provide the information anyway due to "political pressure". He denied that the UK would be left going green further and faster than its neighbours, arguing some other European nations had already gone further. But even if detailed pledges are forthcoming, Mr Davey acknowledged they would fall well short of the level necessary to avert dangerous levels of global warming, of 2C above pre-industrial levels.
There would be "a gap between what the world is offering and what the science says we need to do," he said.
Experts warned that the scale of divisions laid bare at Lima did not bode well for the chances of securing a strong and binding global deal in Paris.
Jonathan Grant, sustainability and climate change director at PwC, said the "trench warfare" mentality between different factions seen in Lima could result in the talks "falling off the cliff in Paris". A long list of fundamental issues remain to be resolved over the next year, including the legal status of any Paris deal and demands from poor countries for more cash from rich nations to help them to help poorer nations cut emissions and cope with the effects of global warming.
Rich countries have previously promised a vague goal of "mobilising" $100bn of "climate finance" a year for poor nations. (© Daily Telegraph London)