- Associated Press - Saturday, December 10, 2011

DURBAN, South Africa (AP) — The president of a U.N. climate conference has announced agreement on a program mapping out a new course by all nations to fight climate change over the coming decades.

The 194-party conference agreed to start negotiations on a new accord that would put all countries under the same legal regime to enforce their commitments to control greenhouse gases. It would take effect by 2020 at the latest.

Currently, only industrial countries have legally binding emissions targets under the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. Those commitments expire next year, but they will be extended for another five years under the accord adopted Sunday.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

DURBAN, South Africa (AP) — Diplomats frazzled by sleeplessness debated into the early hours of Sunday at a U.N. conference over a complex and far-reaching program meant to set a new course for the global fight against climate change for the coming decades.

South Africa’s foreign minister and chairman of the 194-party conference, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, told delegates that failure to agree after 13 days of work would be an unsustainable setback for international efforts to control greenhouse gases.

“This multilateral system remains fragile and will not survive another shock,” she told a full meeting of the conference, which had been delayed more than 24 hours while ministers and senior negotiators labored over words and nuances.

The proposed Durban Platform offered answers to problems that have bedeviled global warming negotiations for years about sharing the responsibility for controlling carbon emissions and helping the world’s poorest and most climate-vulnerable nations cope with changing forces of nature.

The package must be approved by consensus, and no vote will be called. Determined opposition from even a small group of countries would unravel the deal put together after hundreds of hours of contentious negotiations.

Speakers from many developed countries said the package of documents more than 100 pages thick did not go far enough to help poor nations and did not require industrial countries to make more immediate and serious cuts in their carbon emissions. But most said they would accept it for lack of a better option.

But not Venezuela. “We all know this is a very bad agreement, that it will require more work next year and it cannot be adopted,” chief delegate Claudia Solerno said.

After weeks of being accused of obstructionism and delay, U.S. climate envoy Todd Stern voiced surprisingly strong support for the deal.

“This is a very significant package. None of us likes everything in it. Believe me, there is plenty the United States is not thrilled about,” Stern said. But the package captured important advances that would be undone if it is rejected.

Saturday afternoon, as negotiations dragged on with no sign of breakthrough, some ministers and top negotiators left Durban with no assurance of an agreement.

European Commissioner Connie Hedegaard, drawn and fatigued after two nights with minimal sleep, warned that failure in Durban would jeopardize new momentum in acting against global warming.

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