By Climatico Contributor: Shira Honig

Negotiators work on an agreement late into the night, 10 December 2011. (Photo taken by the United Kingdom's Department of Energy and Climate Change)

The Durban conference on climate change ended on a much better note than many expected, but continued to delay the toughest questions for at least three years.

The final outcome of the conference, COP-17, is a two-page, breakthrough document called the “Durban Platform for Enhanced Action” that commits all countries to a legally binding agreement to cut carbon emissions. The document satisfies the United States, who was looking for China and India to participate in a global agreement. Delays also work for the Obama administration, who as Politico reports, are looking to hold off on contentious details until after the 2012 election.

The document also meets China’s requirement of not joining a global treaty until 2020. India is also satisfied, having fought for the inclusion of the concept of equity between developed and developing countries in the Durban document, with strong backing from China.

The document even satisfies the European Union, who was willing to extend its current Kyoto Protocol commitments in exchange for a global agreement in force by 2020. In fact, there will be a second commitment period for Kyoto to remain in place as an interim agreement before the new deal is negotiated. The end of the second commitment period – either 2017 or 2020 – will be negotiated next year, at COP-18, in Qatar. Besides the EU, several other developed countries will also continue their Kyoto commitments.

While the creation of a “Kyoto II” is a win for developing countries, it is only a victory of sorts, given that the world’s largest emitters will not be participating in a legally binding agreement until 2020. Small island developing states in the Pacific, and other developing countries who were looking for an agreement at Durban, point out that this may be too late for them to avoid the worst of rising sea levels that threaten their existence.

One potential bright spot for the least developing countries is the agreement in Durban to set up a management and distribution body for the Green Climate Fund. No further details, however, were reached in the agreement.

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