Mon, Sep 03, 2007 - Page 12 News List

APEC talks to address global warming

CYNICAL FODDER Critics of the Australian prime minister say he has put the topic on the summit agenda to assuage voters' concerns about his environmental credentials


Pacific Rim leaders meeting in Australia this week should strike an agreement on fighting global warming, but binding targets on greenhouse gas emissions should not be part of it, the host of the summit said yesterday.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard, laying out reasons for putting global warming on the agenda of the normally trade-focused APEC forum, said the bloc had an important role to play in building a new global framework on climate change.

But a new approach, he said, should ditch the emissions targets in the 1997 Kyoto Protocol on climate change in favor of voluntary strategies that recognize individual nations' varying levels of development.

"Our view is that we need a new flexible framework that includes a long-term global goal and encourages a wide range of national actions by all," Howard told reporters.

Howard, whose country is among the world's highest emitters of greenhouse gases per capita, has been a key opponent of the Kyoto pact, which expires in 2012. A major UN meeting in Bali, Indonesia, in December will begin working on a successor agreement.

Howard said that APEC leaders would discuss the possibility of setting emissions caps in future, but that it was "very unlikely" they would agree on a target at this week's meeting.

Australia and the US are the only two industrialized countries not to have ratified Kyoto, arguing that binding emission targets could harm economic growth and leave them at a competitive disadvantage to China and other developing countries not held to the pact's targets.

A document on climate change being circulated at this week's APEC meeting in Sydney calls on members to voluntarily make "measurable and verifiable contributions to meeting shared global goals," a draft obtained by environmental group Greenpeace said.

"What I would like to see the APEC meeting in Sydney do is develop a consensus on the post-Kyoto international framework that attracts participation by all emitters," Howard said, adding that each member country should not be bound by the same restrictions.

"You cannot expect a country like China to accept precisely the same constraints or discipline as a country like Germany or the United Kingdom," he said. "Their economies are at vastly different stages of development and that has always been the fundamental weakness of the Kyoto approach."

The prime minister also pledged A$70.7 million (US$57.7 million) to global climate change efforts, including A$15.7 million to a forestry management program backed by China.

Howard's climate change initiative has already drawn protests from environmentalists who say it is an empty strategy designed to protect Australia's coal export industry. Police arrested 11 Greenpeace activists yesterday for painting anti-APEC slogans on a coal ship in the port of Newcastle, 170km north of Sydney.

Critics also claim that Howard, a former climate change skeptic who is facing a tough re-election campaign, has placed the issue on APEC's agenda to assuage voters' concerns about his environmental credentials. The election will likely be later this year.

To support his initiative, Howard released a report by a government research body, the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics, saying APEC economies accounted for 58 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions in 2004. Those would be 130 percent higher by 2050 if members take no action to cut them, the report said.

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