By Fiona Harvey, Ed Crooks and Andrew Ward in Copenhagen
The Financial Times

The United Nations climate change summit in Copenhagen ended in apparent disarray last night with some world leaders hailing a “meaningful agreement”, while others said no deal had been struck.

The US, China, Brazil, India and South Africa claimed, after a four-hour meeting, to have secured a partial pact. But their optimism was quickly undermined by a string of more pessimistic assessments.

Barack Obama, US president, acknowledged that the deal was “not sufficient to combat the threat of climate change but [was] an important first step” on cutting greenhouse gases.

“We have made a meaningful and unprecedented breakthrough. For the first time in history, all of the major economies have come together to take action [on global warming],” he said after a meeting with Wen Jiabao, the Chinese premier, Manmohan Singh, India’s prime minister, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of Brazil and Jacob Zuma, South African president.

No senior UN officials were available to comment on Mr Obama’s announcement.

Mr Obama said further talks were needed to secure a formal treaty to replace the 1997 Kyoto accord. “What we have achieved in Copenhagen will not be the end but the beginning of a new era of international action,” he said. “This is going to be hard.”

The agreement contained a commitment to try to hold global warming to no more than 2°C, a level scientists have suggested is probably the limit of safety, beyond which climate change could become catastrophic and irreversible.

Rich countries have also included commitments to cut their emissions and developing countries to curb the growth of theirs. There were also promises to transfer money from rich to poor countries, to help them tackle climate change.

But there was confusion as some countries appeared to be less optimistic than Mr Obama. While he was leaving for the airport, European officials were denying a deal. “If there had been a deal, the prime minister [of Sweden] and the president [of the Commission] would have been here. They still have not formalised the deal,” said Roberta Alenius, spokeswoman for the EU presidency.

Some poorer countries made clear support was far from unanimous. Lumumba Di-Aping, Sudanese head of the G77 group of developing countries, said the US-backed plan represented the “lowest level of ambition” and would be devastating for the world’s poor. “This is an idea not a deal,” he said.

His remarks raised doubts over whether a deal brokered by a small group of big industrialised and emerging economies would win the support needed to turn it into a binding treaty.

One key sticking point was China’s refusal to allow monitoring of its emissions. But in a last-minute compromise, Beijing and Washington agreed to a process of “international consultation and analysis”.

Brazilian representatives said negotiators would continue their work into next year in the hope of having a legally binding document that can be signed by the end of 2010.