Praise for Connie amid malaise for climate deal

192 countries sign on to deal forged by former environment minister Connie Hedegaard

After a marathon 60-hour negotiation session this weekend, an agreement paving the way for a global deal to tackle climate change was finally struck at the COP17 conference in Durban, South Africa on Sunday.

Connie Hedegaard, the EU’s climate commissioner and Denmark’s former environment minister, was commended for her role in forging the deal, dubbed the ‘Durban Platform’, which sets a 2015 deadline on negotiating legally-binding emissions targets to come into force in 2020.

“She is very, very good and we are lucky to have her,” Chris Huhne, the UK energy and climate change secretary, told Britain’s Guardian newspaper. “She held everything together in a very impressive manner – a class act.”

With four years of difficult negotiations set to start about the exact emissions limits, HedegaardÂ’s deal is being considered a diplomatic success compared to the outcome of COP15, which was held in Copenhagen and resulted in an agreement that was not legally binding and therefore widely considered weak.

“It’s the first time that the USA, India and China have declared that they are willing to participate in a legally binding agreement,” Hedegaard said. “There were many people who thought we would not get a result. It’s been hard work. But we’ve taken a big step forward.”

Despite Hedegaard receiving praise for her diplomatic coup, the Danish climate minister, Martin Lidegaard, said he was disappointed by the deal.

“Seen from the climate’s point of view, it’s a very unambitious deal – we should have started today,” Lidegaard said, according to Jyllands-Posten. “I’m happy that we have a deal. But a deal alone won’t keep the rise in temperature within two degrees. But it is a diplomatic victory.”

Previous deals to reduce carbon emissions faltered when developing nations argued that they should be exempt in order to reach the same industrial levels the West has achieved thanks to 100 years of industrialisation without having limits placed on their carbon emissions.

In turn, countries such as the United States argued that there was no point in reducing their emissions if developing nations were exempt.

Despite Lidegaard’s criticism, he told Jyllands-Posten that the Durban Platform was “historic” for managing to secure the backing of all of the world’s 192 countries.

The European Commission also praised the deal, stating in a press release that “the EU bids welcome to a historic breakthrough in the fight against climate change”.

But far-left government support party Enhedslisten was critical, arguing that it was too little too late.

“The Durban Platform is a catastrophe for the climate,” MP Per Clausen wrote on the party’s website. “In reality we were better served with no deal rather than a deal that keeps us on course for a climate catastrophe.”

Activist organisation Greenpeace was similarly disappointed with the outcome.

“The grim news is that the blockers led by the US have succeeded in inserting a vital get-out clause that could easily prevent the next big climate deal being legally binding,” Kumi Naidoo, Greenpeace’s international executive director, stated in a press release. “If that loophole is exploited it could be a disaster. And the deal is due to be implemented ‘from 2020’, leaving almost no room for increasing the depth of carbon cuts in this decade when scientists say we need emissions to peak.”

Climate researchers have been warning that time is running out to prevent the global temperature from rising by more than two degrees Celsius – the threshold for warming at which catastrophic climate change could take hold – and that by putting off action until 2020, we risk warming the planet by up to four degrees.

The Danish government recently released an energy plan to reduce its reliance on fossil fuels for energy production, with an aim to sustainably produce all of its energy needs by 2050.

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