DOHA, Qatar—A grueling U.N. climate conference closed Saturday with countries pumping eight last years of life into an anemic Kyoto Protocol while making way for a new system that will force all nations to take responsibility for global warming.
After a midnight dispute between the United States and vulnerable countries over compensation for extreme weather events that left one hardened island diplomat in tears and an hours-long standoff between Russia and Europe over a loophole that allows governments to trade their way out of cutting carbon, conference President Abdullah Bin Hamad al-Attiyah speed-gaveled in the "Doha Climate Gateway" deal.
The package promises to create by next year a system that could someday see rich nations paying billions more dollars for disasters that can be linked to climate change. It also vaguely assures poor countries that current climate funding will keep flowing and grow as nations look for ways to mobilize a promised $100 billion by 2020.
"We did pass the bridge between the old system. We're now on our way to 2015, the new regime," said E.U. Commissioner for Climate Change Connie Hedegaard. "It was definitely not an easy ride. Definitely it also was not a beautiful ride. Definitely it was not a fast ride. But we did manage to cross the bridge."
U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change Todd Stern also praised the final product, noting that diplomats accomplished an unspectacular but important job in resolving leftover issues like finance and technology. Only with that done, he said, could countries leave a Kyoto system in which only a few wealthy countries are bound to cut carbon and enter the uncharted territory of demanding legal obligations from all nations.
"It's going to be very challenging," Stern said. "There will be growing pains in this process."
But African leaders, island nations and low-lying states hit hard by storms, typhoons and other weather disasters said they were bitterly disappointed that the deal does not take a single extra ton of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. Nor, they noted, does it promise a dollar more to help the countries that did not cause climate change to prepare for the consequences.
"Those who are obstructive and self-serving need to realize we are not talking about impacts on how comfortable your people live, but whether or not our people will live," Nauru Foreign Minister Kieren Keke said to sustained applause.
"It's the weakest text I have ever seen. It's a travesty of the process and commitments," said a deflated Farukh Khan, Pakistan's lead negotiator, just before the package passed. "It can be summed up in two words: We'll talk."
Russia is gaveled down
Throughout the conference, U.S. and E.U. leaders described this 18th Conference of the Parties to the U.N. climate convention, or COP18, as a transition meeting.
With the first phase of the Kyoto Protocol ending this month and countries like Russia, Japan and Canada refusing to join a second commitment period, developing countries insisted on seeing the remaining participants beef up their emissions targets.
They failed. Those countries that did agree to stay in Kyoto for a second commitment period -- the 27-member European Union, Australia, Switzerland and eight others -- kept their emissions pledges low. Those nations account for about 15 percent of global emissions. The United States has never been a party to Kyoto and did not join.
But the needs of vulnerable countries were sidelined entirely as E.U. leaders scrambled for hours first to appease Poland and other Eastern European leaders who wanted to be able to carry over billions of dollars' worth of surplus carbon credits into Kyoto's second phase. Then they had to persuade Russia not to blow up the process on the same issue.