Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda yesterday unveiled a US$2 billion aid package to help developing Asian nations fight pollution and combat climate change.
The initiative, announced by Fukuda at a summit of Asian leaders, includes soft loans and training programs over five years, and is aimed at helping the region tackle global warming while pushing forward with economic development.
The package "includes loan and grant aid as well as technological training, targeting East Asian countries," a Japanese official said, without specifying which nations would receive aid.
"For ASEAN nations, the efforts to address climate change must not hinder them from seeking development and economic prosperity," another official said.
Yesterday's summit included the 10 members of ASEAN, plus Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea. The summit issued a declaration on fighting climate change.
The new Japanese aid is aimed specifically at helping developing Asian countries tackle air and water pollution, as well as improve sewage processing.
Japan has long relied on aid as a primary instrument of its foreign policy and considers Southeast Asia a key region to exert international influence.
Pollution in China is already affecting parts of western Japan, and Japan is keen to share information to help other countries clean up the environment while ensuring economic growth.
Indonesia will host a conference on a successor to the Kyoto Protocol next month in Bali. The protocol sets limits on emissions by developed nations, but the US and Australia have refused to join it because it exempts major polluters, China and India.
Australia, the world's worst greenhouse gas polluter per capita, says the emission targets imposed on it could hurt Australian industries while handing competitive advantages to developing countries.
Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer told reporters yesterday there were signs India and China have recognized they need to take action to stabilize and reduce emissions.
"They are not going to take the view that only developed countries should deal with this issue," Downer said. "I think there has been a turning of the tide in terms of China and India's position on climate change."
China's booming economy has propelled it past the US as the world's largest emitter of carbon dioxide, the atmospheric pollutant that is primarily responsible for global warming.
Two-thirds of China's power comes from coal, which releases more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than any other energy source. Over the next five years, the country expects to complete at least one new coal-fired power plant a week.
In India, where several automakers are competing to provide affordable cars to the country's enormous middle class, there were 300,000 cars registered last year in the capital New Delhi alone.
The government acknowledges that it expects the country's emissions to grow fivefold by 2031, which would put India about where the US is now.
The East Asia Summit was expected to call on members to work to reduce by at least 25 percent their energy intensity -- the amount of energy needed to produce a dollar of gross domestic product -- by 2030.
East Asian countries also will adopt an "aspirational goal" of expanding their combined forest cover by at least 15 million hectares by 2020 and fight deforestation.
ASEAN's members are Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.