Pacific Rim leaders yesterday said the world needs to "slow, stop and then reverse" greenhouse gas emissions, and adopted modest goals to curb global warming as thousands of demonstrators rallied to demand they do more.
Some experts and activists dismissed as ineffective the program adopted by the presidents of the US, China, Russia and leaders of other Asia-Pacific economies at the annual summit -- which did not set goals for cutting countries' output of polluting gases.
But it sets a precedent because it applies to all of the group's mix of rich and developing members, and could influence upcoming UN negotiations on climate change.
Leaders "charted a new international consensus for the region and the world," summit host Australian Prime Minister John Howard said outside the Sydney Opera House, where the leaders adopted the declaration on the first of two days of talks.
A dozen blocks away and on the other side of a 3m metal fence fortified by concrete barriers and a police cordon, about 3,000 protesters held a colorful, mostly peaceful march and rally. Causes included protests against US President George W. Bush, the Iraq war and ending poverty.
Kerry Nettle, a senator from the Greens party, demanded that the Pacific Rim leaders take "real action" on global warming, drawing cheers. One protester wore a T-shirt that read: "Climate Change is not Cool."
Another was dressed as a polar bear.
Police, who had warned of potential violence and been given special search powers by the local government, had only minor scuffles with demonstrators, arresting 17 protesters. Two officers were also injured, police said.
The APEC climate change program brings together some of the world's powerhouse economies and some of its biggest polluters. As such, it could influence upcoming negotiations before the end of the year in Washington, New York and Indonesia to devise a successor to the UN-backed Kyoto Protocol when it expires in 2012.
"If you have APEC, especially the largest emitters -- the US, China, Russia, Japan -- sign up to an agreement like that, it would be hard to ignore at the global level," said Malcolm Cook of Sydney-based think tank the Lowy Institute.
Environmental groups and some climate change experts said the agreement was weak.
"In practical terms, that will mean almost nothing," said Frank Jotzo, an Australian National University expert in climate change economics. "It is very unambitious."
The energy intensity target sets a rate that most economies are naturally meeting as they get richer and shift out of power-intensive manufacturing, he said.
"If the APEC statement is the platform for future action on climate change, then the world is in trouble," Greenpeace energy campaigner Catherine Fitzpatrick said.
In the plodding bargaining this past week, officials tried to bridge differences between richer and developing nations.
The targets, a demand of Australia and the US, apply to all countries. Under Kyoto, China, India and other developing countries were largely exempted from emissions targets applied to industrial countries. At APEC, developing nationss got richer members to reaffirm that they should bear most of the costs in solving global warming.
"In diplomacy, we cannot be 100 percent satisfied because it is a product of negotiations, and in the end we have to live with it," Indonesian Foreign Minister Hassan Wirayuda, whose government had earlier opposed the target, told reporters. "Any product of negotiation, whatever document we call it, it is a product of compromise."