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APEC leaders set goals on climate change

Pacific Rim leaders agreed Saturday to tackle global warming by improving energy use and managing forests better, as thousands of demonstrators rallied to demand the governments do more and act faster.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Pacific Rim leaders agreed Saturday to tackle global warming by improving energy use and managing forests better, as thousands of demonstrators rallied to demand the governments do more and act faster.

Some experts and activists dismissed the program adopted by the presidents of the United States, China, Russia and leaders of other Asia-Pacific economies at an annual summit as too modest to be effective. But the program’s main backers — Australia and the United States — hope to influence upcoming U.N. negotiations on climate change.

“The world needs to slow, stop and then reverse the growth of global greenhouse gas emissions,” the 21 leaders said in the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum’s Sydney Declaration on Climate Change, Energy Security and Clean Development.

'New international consensus'?
The summit host, Australian Prime Minister John Howard, said its participants had “charted a new international consensus for the region and the world.”

“A great challenge for our region is to balance our energy needs with action to address the threat of climate change posed by greenhouse gas emissions,” 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 10-foot 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 President 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” while another was dressed 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. Nine protesters were arrested and two officers 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, the agreement could influence upcoming negotiations before the end of the year in Washington, New York and Indonesia to devise a successor to the U.N.-backed Kyoto Protocol when it expires in 2012.

“If you have APEC, especially the largest emitters — the United States, 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.

Nonbinding targets
The program’s centerpiece is a goal to reduce “energy intensity” — the amount of energy needed to produce a dollar of gross domestic product — 25 percent by 2030.

The only other concrete goal was to increase forest cover in the region by at least 50 million acres by 2020.

Both are nonbinding targets in keeping with APEC’s voluntary, consensus-based approach.

Environmental groups and some climate change experts said the modest targets and their nonbinding nature rendered the agreement ineffective.

‘It is very unambitious’
“In practical terms, that will mean almost nothing,” said Frank Jotzo, an Australian National University expert in climate change economics. “It is very unambitious.”

Officials spent four plodding days this week trying to bridge the same differences that have plagued the negotiations over the Kyoto pact.

Australia and the United States wanted a target that all countries would submit to, unlike Kyoto, which largely exempted China, India and other developing countries from emissions targets applied to industrial countries.

Developing countries did not want targets and wanted richer members to acknowledge that they chiefly caused global warming and must bear most of the burden in solving the problem.

In the end, the more modest document met both sides needs.

“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.”