By Richard Black
Environment Correspondent, BBC News website
The first meeting of the Asia-Pacific climate pact, scheduled to take place in November in Australia, has been postponed, the BBC has learned.
Which way is the wind blowing for climate control?
Announced in July, the pact of six nations aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through technology and voluntary partnerships.
It has been hailed in some quarters as an alternative to the Kyoto Protocol.
Green groups say the postponement shows that governments involved view the Kyoto process as more important.
"The partnership was a hastily drawn together arrangement, and the group wanted to demonstrate they were going to produce something quickly," said Stephanie Long, Climate Justice Campaigner for Friends of the Earth in Australia.
"Nothing has happened to take this pact forwards, there's been nothing to disclose what it would entail, and it doesn't seem like it's as important to get around the table as it was to announce the setting up of this pact," she told the BBC News website.
Launch in Laos
The Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate was announced in the Laotian capital, Vientiane, in July, at the Association of South East Asian Nations regional summit.
It brings together Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea and the United States, which together account for nearly half of the world's greenhouse gas emissions.
The partnership's vision statement speaks of:
Missing, in stark contrast to the Kyoto Protocol, is any mention of mandatory reduction targets for greenhouse gas emissions
- developing, deploying and transferring existing and emerging clean technology
- exploring technologies such as clean coal, nuclear power and carbon capture
- involving the private sector.
Although the statement says the partnership would not replace the Kyoto process, the implication at the July announcement was clear; here was an alternative model through which countries could combat climate change without risking economic pain.
Criticised at the time for being short on detail, ministers referred forwards to the inaugural ministerial meeting, to be hosted by the Australian government in Adelaide in November.
A senior official involved in the process told the BBC News website that the meeting would not now take place as scheduled, and that January was the earliest possible time.
The Australian government declined to confirm the postponement, but said that there had been no formal announcement of a date or location.
The timing is significant because the meeting will now take place after the next round of United Nations climate negotiations, which opens in Montreal on 28 November.
The key topic for that meeting is what shape any future international agreement on climate change should take; whether it should be another global treaty setting mandatory targets, and if so, whether targets should extend to developing nations.
Targets or technology? The focus for November's UN deliberations
Australia and the US, which have not ratified the Kyoto treaty, are among those which would prefer a looser, more voluntary arrangement emphasising clean technology.
Last month, the British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who has in the past supported a "child-of-Kyoto" concept, indicated a possible change of mind.
"Probably I'm changing my thinking about this in the past two or three years," he said at the Clinton Global Initiative meeting in New York, going on to extol the importance of technology in curbing emissions.
"Based on recent statements by Tony Blair I would say that there is a move in the direction of voluntary agreements," observed Julian Morris, executive director of the International Policy Network, a market-oriented think-tank.
"Looking at the geopolitics, it seems unlikely that China, India, South Africa, or Brazil would realistically sign up to emission reductions; and one can understand why, because it would definitely impact their economic growth.
"We don't know precisely what this Asia-Pacific pact entails, but to the extent that it encourages technology transfer it would be a good thing."
But Stephanie Long sees in the meeting's postponement the balance tipping towards the UN model.
"If the Asia-Pacific partnership had been able to have their meeting around the same time, it would have really taken the power out of the Montreal meeting," she said.
"If they haven't been able to organise the climate pact meeting in time, that demonstrates that Kyoto is actually the more important climate change forum."