updated 1/11/2006 8:40:38 PM ET 2006-01-12T01:40:38

The United States and Australia on Thursday pledged a combined US$127 million to an Asia Pacific plan to slash greenhouse gas emissions by promoting technologies for clean and renewable energy generation.

Environmentalists said the pledges at the inaugural Asia Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate were far too little, and complained that the forum focused on untried technologies to prop up the fossil fuel industry rather than proven renewable energy sources like solar power.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard pledged to pump 100 million Australian dollars (US$75 million; euro62.05 million) over five years into the effort, aimed at fighting global warming.

James Connaughton, chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, said that the U.S. delegation would tell the conference that President Bush will seek US$52 million (euro43 million) in his country's 2007 budget to manage the partnership's work.

Together, the U.S. and Australian funding forms "a very strong foundation to sustain the technology, trade promotion and investment that we're trying to achieve," Connaughton told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.

The partnership brought together senior ministers from the United States, Australia, Japan, China, South Korea and India, along with dozens of executives from energy and resource firms.

Environmentalists have branded the meeting a stunt to divert attention from the U.S. and Australian governments' refusal to sign the Kyoto Protocol, which legally binds countries to targets for cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 2012.

Greenpeace slammed the pledges announced Thursday as inadequate.

"The prime minister effectively said this morning that his government doesn't believe it's worth spending the money to really tackle climate change. The Australian people, battling bush fires, drought and heat waves, won't take kindly to that attitude," Greenpeace climate campaigner Catherine Fitzpatrick said in a statement.

"We are deeply concerned that Australia and the USA will not only miss the opportunity to lead us towards the renewable energy economy that we need to tackle climate change, but won't even take the first simple and effective steps down that road," she added.

The countries at the meeting — with 45 percent of the world's population — account for nearly half of the world's gross domestic product, energy consumption and global greenhouse gas emissions, the Australian government said.

In a communique issued at the meeting's end, the partnership stressed the ongoing importance of fossil fuels.

"Coal and gas are and will remain critical fuels for all six partner economies," the communique said.

"There are a range of key advanced coal and gas technologies with the potential to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions levels, airborne pollutants and other environmental impacts," it added. "Opportunities exist for integrating key technologies to achieve lower or zero emitting power production facilities."

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