12/11/2011 08:20 EST | Updated 02/10/2012 05:12 EST

Durban Climate Change Conference: Agreement Reached On Course For Future Accord, Environment Minister Peter Kent 'Cautiously Optimistic'

DURBAN, South Africa - A UN climate conference reached a hard-fought agreement Sunday on a far-reaching program meant to set a new course for the global fight against climate change.

The 194-party conference agreed to start negotiations on a new accord that would ensure that countries will be legally bound to carry out any pledges they make. It would take effect by 2020 at the latest.

The deal doesn't explicitly compel any country to take on emissions targets, although most emerging economies have volunteered to curb the growth of their emissions.

Currently, only industrial countries have legally binding emissions targets under the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. Those commitments expire next year, but they will be extended for at least another five years under the accord adopted Sunday