Almost 200 countries clinched a deal on climate change over the weekend in Warsaw, marking the start of a long journey towards a binding international agreement at the 2015 UN climate talks in Paris.
The agreement, clinched after the UN talks went into extra time on Saturday (24 November), came after overcoming disputes on greenhouse gas emissions cuts and aid for poor nations at a meeting widely criticised as lacking urgency.
Governments agreed in Poland that a new deal in 2015 would consist of a patchwork of national contributions to curb emissions that could blur a 20-year-old distinction between the obligations of rich and poor nations.
Connie Hedegaard, the EU commissioner for Climate Action, said “the Warsaw climate conference showed how challenging the way to an ambitious result in Paris will be. But the last hours also showed that we are capable of moving forward".
“For sure there will be faster and less bumpy ways to Paris but now the journey has started. We must make it there,” Hedegaard added.
The two-week meeting also created a Warsaw International Mechanism to help the poor cope with loss and damage from heatwaves, droughts, floods, desertification and rising sea levels – although rich nations refused to pledge new cash.
Many said Warsaw had fallen short of what was needed.
"We did not achieve a meaningful outcome," said Naderev Sano, a Philippines delegate who had been fasting throughout the talks to urge action in sympathy with victims of Typhoon Haiyan, which killed more than 5,000 people.
No major nation offered tougher action to slow rising world greenhouse gas emissions and Japan backtracked from its carbon goals for 2020, after shutting down its nuclear industry after the Fukushima disaster.
Environmentalists walked out on Thursday, exasperated by the lack of progress. Rich nations were more preoccupied with reviving their flagging economies than tackling climate change, they claimed.
"It is abundantly clear that we still have a long way to go," said Christiana Figueres, the UN climate chief.
Negotiators were on course for a 2015 summit in Paris but not on track for limiting global warming to an agreed ceiling of 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial times to avoid dangerous change, she said.
In September, the UN panel of climate experts raised the probability that man-made emissions of greenhouse gases, mainly from burning fossil fuels, were the main cause of warming since 1950 to 95%, from 90 in a previous assessment.
Delegates in Warsaw agreed that a new global deal, due to be struck in Paris in 2015 and to enter into force from 2020, would be made up of what they called "intended nationally determined contributions" from both rich and poor nations.
‘One world for all’
Until now, rich nations that have emitted most greenhouse gases since the Industrial Revolution have been expected to take the lead with "commitments" to cut emissions while the poor have been granted less stringent "actions".
"In the old system you had this firewall between commitments and actions, now there is one word for all," Hedegaard said.
“The EU wanted the stepwise approach that is now agreed as the way forward: all countries must contribute to the future reduction efforts, and already now all countries must go home and do their homework in order to table their contributions well in advance of the Paris conference, and by the first quarter of 2015 by those ready to do so.”
But developing nations said the rich still needed to lead. "In my understanding the firewall exists and will continue to exist," India's Environment Minister Jayanthi Natarajan said.
Either way, US climate envoy Todd Stern said there would be no coercion. "It is not like someone is going to stand over you with a club and tell you what to do," he said.
The Warsaw deal called on those nations able to do so to put forward their plans for curbs on emissions by the first quarter of 2015 to give time for a review before a summit in Paris at the end of the year.
Under the last climate pact, the Kyoto Protocol, only the most developed countries were required to limit their emissions – one of the main reasons the United States refused to accept it, saying rapidly growing economies like China and India should also take part.
Until Saturday, the only concrete measure to have emerged in Warsaw was an agreement on new rules to protect tropical forests, which soak up carbon dioxide as they grow.
Developed nations, which promised in 2009 to raise aid to $100 billion a year after 2020 from $10 billion a year in 2010-12, rejected calls to set targets for 2013-19.
A draft text merely urged developed nations to set "increasing levels" of aid.