APEC Nations Wrestle With Climate Change

Thursday, September 6th 2007, 9:38 am
By: News On 6

SYDNEY, Australia (AP) _ Pacific Rim nations agreed Thursday that climate change was of ``vital interest,'' but officials squabbled over whether their leaders should include energy efficiency targets in a statement at their annual summit.

As officials worked for a third day to craft a statement about climate change that would be acceptable to all 21 leaders at their weekend summit, familiar battle lines resurfaced over the issue of greenhouse gas emission targets.

The U.S. and Australia want leaders of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation group to embrace a new approach to climate change that would require China _ one of the world's biggest polluters _ and other developing countries to agree to reduction targets on greenhouse gases.

But developing Asian countries were opposing a U.S.-backed Australian plan for the APEC leaders to include targets in their statement. Those countries maintain that APEC, a consensus-based, trade-oriented group, is no place to discuss the details of a new approach to tackling global warming.

The specifics of Australia's plan were sketchy, but officials said they involved loosely defined aims to reduce ``energy intensity'' _ the amount of energy needed to produce one unit of gross domestic product _ rather than greenhouse gas emissions.

At a news conference with Australian Prime Minister John Howard, President Hu Jintao of China said Thursday that any APEC statement should make clear that U.N. negotiations ``should remain the main channel for the international efforts to tackle climate change.''

Highlighting the gulf between the U.S.-backed and developing world positions, Hu said any APEC statement should recognize ``common but differentiated responsibilities'' _ meaning developing nations should not bear the same burden as developed ones in cutting emissions.

Australia achieved a step toward its aim of marking Sydney as the climate change APEC summit, however, when foreign and trade ministers included the subject in their concluding statement from two-days of talks on trade, security and other matters.

``Climate change, energy security and clean development are of vital interest to APEC economies and will be a key theme for APEC leaders,'' said the statement released Thursday, which is separate from the one being crafted for the leaders.

The ministers said they ``welcomed initiatives that encourage individual economies to set goals and formulate action plans for improving energy efficiency.''

The United Nations has called a meeting in Indonesia in December to start work on a successor to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which excludes developing nations for emission targets. The U.S. and Australia were the only industrialized countries to reject Kyoto, arguing that agreeing to emission targets for themselves while booming developing countries did not was unfair.

Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said the Australian proposal at APEC was not an attempt to ``pre-empt'' the U.N. framework, but an effort to get more nations to work together to curb global warming.

``We would like the world to move ... to a position where all countries make a common commitment to stabilizing and eventually reducing CO2 emissions,'' Downer told Australia's Nine Network television Thursday.