- Associated Press - Monday, December 20, 2010

AMSTERDAM (AP) - The agreements reached at a global conference this month to help poor countries cope with climate change exceeded expectations but need to be followed up, the U.N.’s top climate official said Monday.

Christiana Figueres, head of the U.N. climate change secretariat, said all countries, especially in the industrial world, need to deepen their commitments to cut greenhouse gases and to quickly launch new funds to help developing countries adapt to global warming.

Pledges submitted so far to reduce emissions over the next decade amount to just 60 percent of what scientists say would be required to have a 50 percent chance to keep the Earth from warming more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.8 Fahrenheit) above preindustrial levels. Warming by more than 2 degrees, the U.N. scientists have said, could lead to severe changes in climate affecting agriculture, sea levels, water resources, human health and the survival of many species.

Figueres said the agreements reached 10 days ago in Cancun, Mexico, went farther than many expected _ but not far enough.

“Cancun was a big step, bigger than many imagined would be possible,” she said in a statement from her office in Bonn, Germany. “Governments renewed their trust in each other, but to succeed fully they need to press boldly ahead with what they have agreed.”

She said the agreements were the most comprehensive package ever reached to help poorer countries deal with the impacts of global warming.

Her statement came as countries and environmentalists were still digesting the agreements adopted after two weeks of tough negotiations ending with an all-night session Dec. 11. Most analysts said the accords were enough to rescue the moribund negotiating process from potential collapse, but they deferred the most painful decisions at least for another year.

“I think, in the end, we did very, very well, and I think that the world did very well,” Todd Stern, the chief U.S. delegate, said in a Sunday interview with the television program EnergyNOW.

The Cancun agreements established a Green Climate Fund that will be the main channel for delivering $100 billion a year in climate aid to developing countries from 2020. They also created a mechanism for giving them green technologies and set a framework for paying countries to preserve forests.

Under the accords, wealthy countries also are due to report by next May how much they will contribute toward an emergency $30 billion fund for developing countries to develop strategies for coping with global warming and to build their own low-carbon economies.

From the U.S. perspective, Stern said, the biggest achievements in Cancun were getting all countries, including China, India, Brazil and other rapidly expanding economies, to commit to climate action and outlining a system of reporting and verification to ensure those commitments are met.

Stern also said it may not be possible to reach a legally binding climate change treaty in the near future. But Cancun-like agreements that are accepted by consensus at the annual 193-nation climate conference are good enough for now, he said.

“The day will come when things are ripe for a legal agreement. And we’ll be there when that’s the case. But we just shouldn’t hang ourselves up until that day comes,” he said.