Top officials from Australia, Japan, the US, China, Korea and India meeting in Sydney yesterday talked up technologies that could slow climate change but disappointed environmental lobby groups by failing to set targets for reducing the greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming.
The first meeting of the Asia Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate wound up with pledges of hundreds of millions of dollars to develop low-emission technologies for industry but no obligation or incentives for industrialists to use them.
Australian Prime Minister John Howard, addressing government officials and captains of industry, closed the two-day gathering with the hope that companies would do the right thing and put the planet ahead of profits.
"Without the active partnership with the business community we are not going to achieve our goal," Howard told the assembly.
Representatives of environmental lobby groups were denied seats at a conference they said was a charade put on by Australia and the US to deflect criticism of their failure to honor a commitment they made in Japan in 1997 and ratify the Kyoto Protocol on climate change.
Kyoto, now in effect after being ratified by 157 countries, sets legally binding emissions-reduction targets for 35 rich countries.
Poorer countries have promised to follow with their own cuts at a later stage.
The US and Australia, respectively the world's biggest polluter and the world's biggest polluter on a per capita basis, are the only two rich countries not to have ratified a pact that obliges signatories to cut emissions an average of 5.2 per cent below 1990 levels by 2012.
Australia relies on coal for 77 percent of energy generation and is the world's biggest coal exporter. The US, alone responsible for around a quarter of emissions of carbon dioxide, shares Australia's view that Kyoto is unfair because developing countries like China and India weren't given emission-reduction targets at the outset.
Howard pledged to spend A$100 million (US$75 million) on green energy projects over the next five years. Sam Bodman, the US energy secretary, announced an outlay of US$52 million on green energy in 2007.
Most of that money is expected to go to companies exploring ways of burying the carbon emissions from coal-burning power stations.
The Sydney-based Nature Conservation Council (NCC) slammed the delegates for lacking the political will to properly address climate change.
NCC director Cate Faehrmann said that shirking emissions targets, and refusing to follow the lead of the EU and set up a carbon-credit trading scheme, was tantamount to granting a "license for government and business to do nothing."
She added: "Without any incentive or penalties there is no reason for industry to move away from burning pollution coal and oil."
Demonstrators outside the meeting echoed Faehrmann's view that the partners were either naive or delusional in their optimism that companies would volunteer to adopt low-emission technologies that would add mightily to the cost of their products and willingly hand their rivals a huge advantage.
The Greens' Christine Milne, a member of the Australian parliament, told protesters outside the hotel that tackling climate change was should be the work of governments.
"There has been nowhere in the world where business has taken the lead unless you put in place a regulatory framework to make them do that," she said.