Qatar's Deputy Prime Minister and 18th Conference of the Parties (COP18) President Abdullah bin Hamad Al-Attiyah (5-L) delivers a speech during the opening ceremony. epa
DOHA: Nearly 200 nations launched a fresh round of United Nations climate talks in Doha on Monday faced with appeals for urgency in their efforts to reduce Earth-warming greenhouse gas emissions.
The 18th UN climate conference comes amid a welter of scientific warnings that extreme weather events like superstorm Sandy will become commonplace if mitigation efforts fail.
"This is a historic conference of crucial importance ... as it represents a turning point in climate negotiations," said Qatar's conference president Abdullah al-Attiyah.
"We must work seriously in the next two weeks ... be flexible and not dwell (on) marginal matters."
Several expert reports warned in recent days that existing greenhouse gas mitigation pledges are not nearly enough to limit warming to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels.
This is the level at which scientists believe we may still avoid the most serious effects of climate damage.
Topping the agenda in Doha is the launch of a followup commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol, the world's only binding pact for curbing emissions.
The protocol, whose first commitment period runs out on December 31, currently binds about 40 rich nations and the EU to an average five percent greenhouse gas reduction from 1990 levels.
The United States and China, the world's biggest emitters, have not taken on mitigation limits under the deal.
Negotiators seeking a followup Kyoto Protocol commitment period disagree on its duration and targets.
The EU, Australia and some small Kyoto parties have said they would take on commitments in a second period, but New Zealand, Canada, Japan and Russia will not.
Also in Doha, delegates must draft a work plan for arriving in the next 36 months at a new global climate deal that must enter into force by 2020.
Negotiators, to be joined in the last four days by cabinet ministers from more than 100 nations, will be under pressure to raise pre-2020 emission reduction targets, and rich nations to come up with funding for the developing world's mitigation actions.
"Climate change is the most serious sustainable environment challenge of our time. We must act now," South African International Relations Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane said in opening the two-week meeting.
"We owe it to our children; a safer future than they are currently facing."
The UN Environmental Programme said this week the goal of keeping planet warming in check has moved further out of reach and the world was headed for an average 3-5 degree C temperature rise this century barring urgent action.
And the World Bank said a planet that is four degrees warmer would see coastal areas inundated and small islands washed away, food production slashed, species eradicated, more frequent heat waves and high-intensity cyclones, and diseases spread to new areas.
UN climate chief Christiana Figueres urged negotiators to ensure that ambitions are "raised with necessary urgency". (AFP)