The UN Climate talks in Durban ended early Sunday morning in overtime as nations around the world struggled to agree on how to prevent catastrophic climate change and ensure the future of the human race on planet Earth. In the end, they all decided to sign a two page piece of paper that commits them to limiting global emissions according to an as-of-yet unwritten global treaty that will include an undecided “legal instrument”. While governments around the world (mainly in the US, the EU, China, and India) are patting themselves on the back for being able to stop bickering and agree to do something — although they don’t have to do anything at all for nine years — environmental groups and people in communities most affected by climate change say the decision to put off limiting emissions until the future makes the conference a failure.

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The two page paper that the nations gathered in Durban were finally able to agree upon on Sunday is essentially what the European Union was pulling for all along. It is a “roadmap” that commits the countries of the world to figuring out how to limit global emissions in the future. The agreement that was signed says that in the Climate Talks between now and 2015, and no later, some sort of agreement must be made that has “legal instruments” attached that will limit global emissions from all nations after 2020. It is hard to be excited about this long-term agreement to find a solution when the International Energy Agency has already stated that if we only start to limit emissions after 2020, we’ll have to spend $4 more for every $1 that we could have spent now to get emissions below climate change’s point of no return in 2050 — not to mention that irreversible climate change will start happening in just 5 years if nothing is done.

As for the Green Climate Fund, the talks yielded a clear plan of action with absolutely no cash to pay for it. The developed nations that were called upon to pay for the $100 billion a year fund couldn’t agree on how to come up with the money, so they decided to put the decision off for the future, saying they’ll get things together by 2020 when the fund is due to start. The vague language of the agreement and the lack of progress on the Green Climate Fund are evidence that an unacceptable compromise is being made in order to get the largest emitters to join in the fight. The inclusion of the “legal instrument” language came at the request of India who said they wouldn’t sign anything that legally bound developing countries to reducing emissions — much of the world preferred the “legally binding” wording.

Organizations like Greenpeace came right out this morning and called the UN Climate Talks a failure, and countries around the world that will be seriously affected by climate change berated the larger nations for their indecision. “This is indeed a historic opportunity, and we cannot build history on shaky foundations,” Colombia’s deputy minister of foreign relations, Patti Londono Jaramillo, told delegates. “It is a weak wording.” Talks will resume next year in Quatar – for now the world should brace itself for ever rising emissions for the next nine years and a scramble thereafter to limit global climate change before our time runs out.

+ COP17 press release on the agreement

+ United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change