THE United Nations (UN) climate change negotiations that ended in Durban on Sunday were "historic" and had delivered a "watershed" deal that took in developed and developing nations, Water and Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa said yesterday.

The talks, which went on a day-and-a-half over schedule, start a process that will see the Kyoto Protocol, which holds only developed nations to targets to reduce their emission of gases related to climate change, extended to 2018. This is a fundamental shift, and was hard won.

"After a year of intensive negotiation, the final outcome of Durban is historic and precedent- setting, ranking with the 1997 conference where the Kyoto Protocol was adopted. In the dying hours of this watershed conference we were able to agree on a comprehensive deal," said Ms Molewa, who headed SA's delegation.

The two-week conference also secured agreement on the form of the Green Climate Fund, a $100bn-a-year kitty that will help developing and least-developed nations adapt to, and mitigate, climate change.

But some analysts have called the "Durban Deal" a face-saver for governments, and for the UN's multilateral negotiations process.

"In the end governments did just enough to salvage a path forward for further negotiations. But we shouldn't be under any illusion - the outcome of Durban leaves us with the prospect of being legally bound to a world of 4º C warming. That would be catastrophic for people and the natural world," said Keith Allott, the World Wide Fund for Nature's climate team chief.

The "Durban platform", as the agreement has been dubbed, has extended the life of the Kyoto Protocol, the first commitment period of which ends on December 31 next year. The protocol is extended to 2018 while the almost 200 participant nations wrangle over a treaty that will see the world's big emitters having to cut emissions. The exact legal nature of any new deal is still to be thrashed out - one of the reasons the Durban deal has not impressed many.

The outcome at Durban was "a compromise which saves the climate talks but endangers people living in poverty", Mohamed Adow, Christian Aid's expert on the talks, told www.africasciencenews.org. "By giving themselves until 2015 to agree a new deal which only takes effect in 2020, governments are delaying desperately needed action and condemning us all to dangerous warming of much more than 2º C."

There was "no question" brokering a deal the US, India and China were able to agree to, even in principle, was "a massive step forward", SA's chief negotiator, Alf Wills, said. "Three weeks ago a negotiator like me could only dream of an outcome like this."

blaines@bdfm.co.za