A new deal to "save the planet" will force the world's three biggest carbon emitters -- America, China, and India -- to cut emissions for the first time, although scientists fear it will come too late to stop global warming.
More than 190 countries finally agreed a new climate change deal amid chaotic scenes in the early hours of yesterday morning in Durban, South Africa.
As the United Nations conference overran into its second day, it looked as though the talks were on the brink of collapse as the European Union and India argued over just two words in the text.
India wanted the vague term "legal outcome" inserted. But eventually the wording "agreed outcome with legal force" was decided upon in an extraordinary 10-minute "huddle" between exhausted ministers.
The "Durban Platform" will commit all countries to a global deal on cutting carbon emissions by 2015, although it will not come into force until 2020.
The UN marked it as a "historic breakthrough to save the planet", saying that it makes up for the collapse of the last high-profile attempt for a global deal in Copenhagen in 2009.
The EU has also agreed to a second commitment of the Kyoto Protocol from 2013 as part of the deal so that the world has a legal treaty to cut emissions in place before 2020.
The last attempt to secure a global treaty that forced all countries to cut the greenhouse gas emissions, which push up world temperatures, ended in failure at UN talks in Copenhagen two years ago, with just a voluntary accord drawn up.
There are hopes that the roadmap agreed yesterday will lead to a legally binding deal which will cover all major economies -- and that it will send a signal to business that governments are serious about a low-carbon economy.
But environmental groups say that a deal that does not come into force until 2020, after a decade in which voluntary emissions cuts already pledged by countries do not match up to what the science says is needed, will lock in "dangerous" climate change.
Greenpeace UK chief policy adviser Ruth Davis said: "This deal is a lot better than no deal. That said, we can't keep coming back to these annual talks to agree deals that fall so far short of what the science, rather than the politics, requires."
The World Development Movement said the outcome of the talks was a "spectacular failure".
Murray Worthy, the organisation's policy officer, said: "Developed countries have behaved shamefully, blocking meaningful progress.
"They have refused to acknowledge their historical responsibility for the crisis, either by agreeing to reduce their emissions or by providing finance to help developing countries deal with climate change.
"These talks have been held hostage by the EU. It seems EU countries came to impose a deal, not negotiate one.
"The spectacular failure to achieve an outcome on the most urgent issues puts the world on course for devastating climate change, condemning those least responsible to greater hunger, poverty and ultimately, death."
Friends of the Earth's executive director Andy Atkins said: "The UN climate change process is still alive -- but this empty shell of a plan leaves the planet hurtling towards catastrophic climate change.
"If Durban is to be a historic stepping stone towards success, the world must urgently agree ambitious targets to slash emissions.
"Millions of the poorest people around the globe are already facing the impacts of climate change -- countries like the United States, who have done most to create this crisis, must now take the lead in tackling it."
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