After a failed attempt to block an agreement, Canada found itself isolated at the Bali conference Saturday and grudgingly accepted a new accord to set a target of 25 to 40 per cent for cuts in greenhouse-gas emissions by wealthy countries by the end of the next decade.
Environment Minister John Baird spoke against the ambitious target, but found himself virtually alone. Only Russia supported him - so he withdrew his objection, sparking a lengthy burst of applause from other countries.
Mr. Baird also failed in his attempt to gain commitments by China, India and other developing nations to reduce their fast-growing emissions.
"We weren't pleased with the language that weakened and watered-down the agreement that was adopted here, but it's better than no agreement," he told reporters later.
"There are 190 countries represented here in Bali, and 38 of them agreed to take on national binding targets today," he said. "We've just got to work on some of the other 150."
The developments came on a day of high drama and tension at the Bali conference as the 190 countries worked overtime to reach two major agreements after 15 days of negotiations.
The first agreement, applying to all 190 countries, was softened significantly to satisfy the opposition of the United States. The agreement proclaims that "deep cuts" will be required in global emissions of greenhouse gases to respond to the "urgency" of the global warming crisis.
But this agreement fails to mention any specific targets, leaving that issue for negotiations over the next two years. The European Union had pressed hard for the targets, but had to give up on the issue when the U.S. refused to accept it.
This broader agreement nearly collapsed at the last minute today when India and China insisted on stronger promises by wealthy countries to help provide "green" technology to the developing nations. When the tougher language was added to the agreement, the United States refused to accept the deal - sparking a wave of criticism from almost every other nation at the conference. Finally the U.S. flip-flopped and accepted the language, allowing the deal to go ahead.
"I think the exciting part is that America is on board, which is a good thing," Mr. Baird said. "We've said we need to get all the big emitters on board - the United States, China and India. The good news is that we came out with one of the three. We've got two years to negotiate and maybe we'll get the other two on board."
Conference delegates openly jeered the United States when it tried to oppose the promises sought by the developing nations. Then speaker after speaker demanded that the U.S. must not be allowed to kill the deal single-handedly.
"What we witnessed today was incredible drama," said Alden Meyer, director of strategy and policy at the Union of Concerned Scientists. "I've been following the climate negotiations for 20 years and I've never seen anything like it. These talks came to the brink of collapse. Then there was a brilliant strategy to unite the world to call on the United States to rejoin the international community and take on this problem.
The second agreement, later in the day, set targets for deep cuts in emissions - but it applied only to the 38 wealthy countries that have ratified the Kyoto accord, the 1997 agreement that set moderate targets for emission cuts by the wealthy nations.
The United States has not ratified Kyoto, so it was not represented in negotiations on this agreement - although environmentalists said Canada was doing the bidding of the U.S. by opposing the deal.
"In the end, we're thankful that Canada listened to most countries here, and listened to Canadians who wanted action, not obstruction and not following the lead of George Bush," said Quebec-based environmentalist Steven Guilbeault.
Mr. Baird said he was not at all worried by the widespread criticism of Canada's stance at the Bali conference. "We came here to say things that a lot of people were thinking," he said. "There is a certain price of leadership, and I don't apologize for that."