The world's top two air polluters -- the US and China -- joined Australia, India, Japan and South Korea yesterday to unveil a new Asia-Pacific partnership to develop cleaner energy technologies in the hope of curtailing climate-changing pollution.
They described the initiative as a complement to the Kyoto protocol that commits countries to cutting emissions of greenhouse gases blamed for global warming. But environmentalists said the new pact lacked firm obligations to cut pollution and that it might undermine the 140-nation Kyoto accord, which went into force on Feb. 16.
The Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate, also announced overnight in Washington, aims to create cleaner technologies for energy-hungry economies such as China and India, meeting long-term energy needs while reducing pollution and addressing climate concerns.
"We view this as a complement, not an alternative" to the Kyoto treaty, US Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick said at a joint news conference by the six countries at an annual Asia-Pacific security conference in the Laotian capital of Vientiane.
A ministerial meeting to hammer out programs for the pact will be held in Adelaide, Australia, in November.
Emissions of carbon dioxide and five other gases are believed to be behind rising global temperatures that many scientists say are disrupting weather patterns.
Average global temperatures rose about 1oC in the 20th century, and scientists say this has contributed to the thawing of the permafrost, rising ocean levels and extreme weather.
The US, which accounts for one-quarter of the world's greenhouse gases, and Australia refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, saying it would harm their economies by raising energy prices, and cost five million jobs in the US alone.
Their other objection is that the pact mandates greenhouse gas emission reductions only among industrial countries and not developing countries like India and China, which is second only to the US in emissions.
"In the end the key to solving these problems is going to be technology ... cleaner technologies, making technologies more economic," Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said. "These things are going to be a lot more effective over time than just political declarations."
Although Downer insisted the new initiative would not undermine the Kyoto protocol, he made it clear he did not think much of it.
Australian Prime Minister John Howard on Wednesday called the Kyoto pact "a failure," and said, "We have to do better."
Global greenhouse-gas emissions would have increased 41 percent from 1990 to 2010 without the Kyoto protocol, Downer said. With the accord, they are expected to go up by 40 percent if all countries meet their targets, he claimed.
Downer said a bigger impact on emissions is needed if the efforts are to affect climate change.
Yesterday's joint statement said the countries could collaborate on clean coal, liquefied natural gas, methane, civilian nuclear power, geothermal power, rural energy systems, solar power, wind power and bio-energy. In the long-term, they could develop hydrogen nanotechnologies, next-generation nuclear fission and fusion energy, it said.
Environmental group Friends of the Earth was skeptical about the pact because it contained no legally binding requirements to cut emissions.
Greenpeace said "the pact sounds more like a dirty coal deal."
"Why waste time inking a new pact when both the US and Australia have yet to implement existing commitments" under a UN accord to transfer climate-reducing technology, Greenpeace said.
Zoellick defended the nonbinding clause, saying "one can't just command other parties to do things. You need to try to develop interests and incentives."
Canadian Foreign Minister Pierre Pettigrew said the new initiative showed that its authors acknowledge the problem.
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