Climate talks put industry on the spot
Asia-Pacific partners tackle dirty business but avoid emissions targets.
Just six countries chew up nearly half the world's energy supply and spew out half of all greenhouse-gas emissions. This week they announced a plan to reduce global warming that will focus on technological remedies but steer clear of emissions targets or carbon taxes.
Observers say that encouraging industry to get clean is a good idea. But critics add that not enough money is being pumped into the plan. And not having targets for reducing emissions, they say, is a bad idea.
The first meeting of the Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate, which comprises Australia, the United States, Japan, South Korea, India and China, was hosted in sunny Sydney this week. Together the countries came up with a scheme to address climate change that they say will be good for both the economy and the planet.
Their plan focuses on the creation of eight government-business task forces, which will concentrate on cleaning up power generation and distribution, the building trade, and the industries of steel, aluminium, cement and coal mining. These task forces are to devise action plans, time frames and performance indicators, but details are vague at present. The plan does not specifically mention nuclear power.
The aluminium industry was held up at the meeting as a poster child for the strategy. Industry leaders set specific 'voluntary objectives' for factories in 2003, such as reducing perfluorocarbon (PFC) greenhouse-gas emissions by 80% by 2010. Previous voluntary initiatives in this industry saw PFC emissions drop by 45% in the 1990s.
At the meeting, the US administration said it would ask Congress for US$52 million in the 2007 budget towards the Asia-Pacific partnership.
The Australian prime minister, John Howard, pledged AU$100 million (US$75 million) over five years to support technology developments under the partnership, with a quarter of that earmarked for renewable-energy projects.
Critics say this is a paltry amount, but Australia's foreign affairs minister, Alexander Downer, responded that they didn't want to "spray around too much money' at the inaugural meeting.
"It's a disastrous outcome. They aren't prepared to put in place mandatory targets and financial mechanisms to make industry reduce greenhouse-gas pollution," says Erwin Jackson of Melbourne-based environmental group, the Australian Conservation Foundation.
The Asia-Pacific partnership will next meet in 2007.