While Canada's environment minister is cautiously optimistic a new climate treaty can be reached by 2015, an environmental expert warned Sunday that the key to saving the planet is countries taking action immediately.

"What we would hope to see happen is that countries and private sector industry would take early action," Stewart Maginnis of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, told CTV News Channel.

Speaking from Geneva, he said the target date of 2020 for a complete climate accord is too far away.

"We need to see urgent action," Maginnis said. "Last year, 2010, tied with 2005 as the hottest year on record. This year we've seen Arctic Sea ice shrink to its thinnest ever."

Still, he was encouraged by the climate talks that have just wrapped up in Durban, South Africa.

"Now there is a clear sense of direction," he said. "It really does breathe life into the negotiations. But nothing's changed yet."

The dates are part of a new international climate deal that emerged from an overtime session of the climate conference in Durban.

The deal sets 2020 as the target year for a global climate agreement on binding emissions targets to come into effect. It also establishes the agencies that will collect and distribute tens of billions of dollars in funding designed to help poor countries combat the effects of climate change.

In a statement at the close of the 194-party conference, Canadian Environment Minister Peter Kent called the Durban Platform "a fair and balanced framework for responsible and effective action."

And he added: "Although these negotiations will be difficult, we are cautiously optimistic that we will reach a new agreement by 2015."

Part of the new accord will reportedly ensure that countries are legally obligated to fulfill any pledges they make. The policy is a slight departure from the Kyoto Protocol in which only industrial countries have legally binding emissions targets.

While Kent reiterated his opposition to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, the legally binding emissions targets for industrial countries have been extended for five years by the Durban conference.

Canada and the United States have labelled Kyoto a failure because it does not include major emitters such as China and India. Both countries have said any new international agreement on emissions targets must include major emitters among the world's emerging economies.

The minister said Kyoto was not good for Canada and "we want to avoid another Kyoto-like pact at all costs."

Kent, who went to Durban saying Kyoto is a thing of the past that should never have been ratified by the previous government, said Canada is opposed to a second Kyoto commitment period.

"Nor will we devote scarce dollars to capitalize the new Green Climate Fund -- part of the Durban agreement -- until all major emitters accept legally binding reduction targets and transparent accounting of greenhouse gas inventory," he said.

Post-Kyoto climate talks have focused on the goal of preventing global temperatures from rising more than 1.2 degrees Celsius by the end of this century.

A report issued by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) before the Durban talks began said emissions must peak prior to 2020 for that goal to be attainable. The report said that for emissions to peak, nations must boost their reductions targets, but that did not happen at the Durban conference.

"The core question of whether more than 190 nations can co-operate in order to peak and bring down emissions to the necessary level by 2020 remains open -- it is a high-risk strategy for the planet and its people," UNEP chief Achim Steiner said.

However, UN climate chief Christiana Figueres hailed the deal's achievements, which also include guidelines for monitoring and verifying whether countries are hitting their targets, as well as transferring green technologies to developing nations.

"I salute the countries who made this agreement. They have all laid aside some cherished objectives of their own to meet a common purpose -- a long-term solution to climate change," Figueres said.

Meanwhile, the Ottawa-based International Climate Science Coalition has rejected the Durban accord. The group also challenged claims that developed countries are somehow responsible for global warming.

"Developed nations are not guilty of causing the climate change that developing nations claim they are suffering," said Tom Harris, executive director of the group.

Further west, a Vancouver-based climate change group welcomed the agreement.

"The decision to launch talks on a new global climate agreement with legal force represents a potentially significant step forward," said Matt Horne, director of the Pembina Institute.

Still, Horne was cautious with his praise, noting that the new accord will only prompt change if participating countries are willing to abide by it.

"A new deal will only be as effective as the level of ambition that countries are willing to bring to the table," he said.

With files from The Canadian Press