Climate deal won't cap warming, big gaps

COPENHAGEN (Reuters) - A climate deal among world leaders including President Barack Obama puts off many tough decisions until 2010 and sets the planet on track to overshoot goals for limiting global warming.

A chimney is seen next to an apartment block in central Beijing December 16, 2009. REUTERS/David Gray

Obama spoke of “the beginning of a new era of international action” but many other leaders said it was “imperfect,” “not sufficient” and at best a “modest success” if it gets formally adopted by all 193 nations in Copenhagen on Saturday.

Problems faced by China and the United States -- the world’s top emitters -- stood in the way of a stronger deal for the world’s first pact to combat climate change since the U.N.’s Kyoto Protocol in 1997.

In big advances, the deal adds a promise of $100 billion a year to help developing nations from 2020 and promotes the use of forests to soak up carbon dioxide. But it is unclear where the cash will come from.

European leaders fell in reluctantly after Obama announced the deal with China, India, South Africa and Brazil. It was drafted by 28 nations ranging from OPEC oil produces to small island states.

A drawback is that the deal is not legally binding -- a key demand of many developing nations. The text instead suggests an end-2010 deadline for transforming it into a legal text that had long been expected in Copenhagen.

The deal sets a goal for limiting a rise in world temperatures to “below” 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial times but does not set out measures for achieving the target, such as firm near-term cuts in emissions.

“It clearly falls well short of what the public around the world was expecting,” said Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists. “It’s clearly not enough to keep temperatures on a track below 2 degrees.”

A U.N. study leaked this week showed that current pledges by all nations would put the world on track for a 3 Celsius warming, beyond what many nations view as a “dangerous” threshold for droughts, floods, sandstorms and rising seas.

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Mention in some past drafts of a goal of halving world emissions by 2050 below 1990 levels, for instance, was dropped. China and India insist that rich nations must first set far tougher goals for cutting their own greenhouse gas emissions.

And developed nations failed to give an average number for cuts in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 -- many scientists say they need to cut by between 25 and 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 to avoid the worst of climate change.

Instead, all countries would have to submit plans for fighting global warming by the end of January 2010 to the U.N. Climate Change Secretariat.

The pact sums up pledges by major economies for curbing emissions so far -- the looming deadline of Copenhagen spurred nations including China, the United States, Russia and India to promise targets.

But no nations promised deeper cuts during the December 7-18 conference as part of a drive to shift the world economy away from fossil fuels toward renewable energies such as wind and solar power.

The deal proposes deadlines of the end of 2010 for a new “legally binding” instruments.

Jake Schmidt, of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said that the talks were complicated by China’s drive to assert a new, more powerful, role for itself in the world.

“Part of the dysfunction is that China is feeling its way into a new, more powerful role,” he said.

Obama pushed through the pact while he faces problems at home. His goal of cutting U.S. emissions by 4 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 is stalled in the U.S. Senate.

And the deal is unclear on many points. It says developed nations should provide $30 billion in aid to help the poor from 2010-12 and then raise aid to $100 billion a year from 2020.

But it does not say where the money will come from, saying it will be a variety of sources, including public and private. That means that developed nations might try to tap carbon markets for almost all the cash and plan little in public funds.