Climate Change To Top Agenda At APEC Meeting

Friday, August 31st 2007, 8:06 am
By: News On 6

SYDNEY, Australia (AP) _ Global warming, not trade or terrorism, will top the agenda at next week's annual meeting of Pacific-Rim leaders _ a year after climate change barely got a mention in the group's final declaration.

North Korea and Iraq also will be among the topics discussed on the sidelines of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, one of the largest gatherings of world powers.

But don't expect the group's 21 members _ which include China, the United States and Russia, the world's top three greenhouse gas emitters _ to announce any specific targets to cut carbon emissions at their Sept. 8-9 summit in Sydney.

And while the leaders are expected to renew their ritual call for the conclusion of the Doha round of global trade talks, no breakthrough is likely in the bickering between rich and poor nations that brought the negotiations to a standstill.

Senior officials headed to Australia on Friday to finalize statements that will be signed by the leaders at the culmination of a weeklong round of meetings and high-level hobnobbing, against the backdrop of the Sydney Opera House.

APEC is the largest political gathering Australia has ever hosted. Also unprecedented is the security operation to protect against terrorist attacks and planned mass protests that police fear could turn violent.

Authorities have thrown up five-meter (16-foot) security fences around key sites, and will use barricades to completely shut off a large chunk of downtown Sydney next week. Combat helicopters, fighter jets and navy ships will back up more than 5,000 police and troops on security patrols, officials said.

Protest organizers hope to draw thousands to demonstrations against U.S. President George W. Bush and globalization. Alex Bainbridge, a spokesman for a variety of groups organizing protests, said planners were discouraging violence.

At their weekend summit, APEC leaders are likely to adopt a statement on global warming calling for members to voluntarily make ``measurable and verifiable contributions to meeting shared global goals,'' according to a draft obtained by environmental group Greenpeace and viewed by The Associated Press.

That approach is in keeping with the nonbinding nature of APEC, which was formed in 1989 as a consultative forum to promote trade in the region.

Still, observers say any consensus reached in Sydney could help chart the course for a successor to the Kyoto Protocol on global warming, which expires in 2012.

``APEC is a good starting point for finding new consensus'' on how to tackle global warming, said Alan Oxley, chairman of the Australian APEC Study Center at Monash University in Melbourne. ``It took many years to draft the Kyoto Protocol, and it'll take many years to draft a successor.''

Climate change rated barely a mention at last year's meeting and its inclusion this time is an example of how APEC's agenda has rapidly expanded to include political, security, health and environmental issues _ prompting some members to complain about mission drift.

Sticking closer to its trade roots, the group will discuss the Doha trade talks, as well as a longer-term proposal to create a sprawling Pacific-wide free-trade zone, stretching from Chile to China and enveloping nearly half the world's trade.

``The first priority for trade for me at the meeting will be on Doha,'' Bush told a group of Asian reporters in Washington on Thursday. ``This will be an opportunity for the leaders of the APEC summit to express their desire to see the Doha round succeed. We'll take the lead in that, along with other nations.''

In Sydney, Bush is to meet with Australian Prime Minister John Howard, Chinese President Hu Jintao, South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. A meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin is also a possibility.

Joint efforts among some of those countries to end North Korea's nuclear program will be discussed, and Bush said he hopes the issue can be resolved before he leaves office in January 2009.

``The question is, can it happen before I'm through? Yes, it can,'' Bush said. ``I hope so. ... But it's the leader of North Korea who gets to the make the decision. It's his choice to make.''

Senior U.S. officials said Bush would also urge allies to keep their troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But Bush is leaving halfway through the leaders' weekend meeting to return to the U.S. for the release of a key report about the Iraq war and to prepare for the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

To accommodate Bush's schedule, APEC organizers have shifted the annual ``funny shirts'' group photo _ in which all the leaders don a traditional piece of clothing from the host country _ a day earlier than normal.

APEC members account for 56 percent of the world's economy, 48 percent of its trade and 40 percent of its population.