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Last Updated: Wednesday, 11 January 2006, 00:05 GMT
First meeting for 'Kyoto rival'
By Richard Black
Environment Correspondent, BBC News website, Sydney

Ship loading coal in Newcastle, Australia (Image: BBC)
The six nations are major coal producers, users and exporters
The first ministerial meeting of a controversial alliance promising economic growth with low carbon emissions has opened in Sydney.

The Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate aims to develop and promote technologies such as "clean coal", nuclear and renewables.

Green groups say the body aims to emasculate the Kyoto Protocol.

The meeting involves politicians and industrialists from Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea and the US.

The Asia-Pacific partnership was announced in July, but this is the first time that ministers from the six countries have come together.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was due to be the highest-profile attendee, but withdrew a few days ago citing concerns over the Middle East in the wake of Ariel Sharon's illness.

Clean development

Australia's Environment Minister Ian Campbell does not believe her absence will affect the gathering.

"It certainly would have been fantastic if the US secretary of state could have been here," he said.

"But the meeting will be the culmination of an enormous amount of work by the six governments; and we're still very hopeful of constructive outcomes to deliver the two policy aims of robust, strong economic development, but within a framework of much lower greenhouse gas emissions."

Drax power station
We need strong domestic measures within the developed world because that's where most of the emissions are coming from
Ben McNeil, climate scientist
The ideology behind the partnership is that emissions can be brought down effectively by developing and spreading new technologies.

It is a voluntary body without international commitments such as those contained in the Kyoto Protocol.

Environmental groups believe the approach will achieve little.

"Voluntary agreements have been tried before and have failed to affect significant change," commented an NGO climate coalition in a joint statement co-ordinated by Climate Action Network Australia (Cana).

"Without targets, timetables nor market-based incentives to encourage the deployment of already developed clean energy technologies, the Asia-Pacific partnership is an empty and meaningless shell that will not help us avoid dangerous climate change."

Common ground

Australia and the US have both withdrawn from the Kyoto Protocol, claiming that meeting the commitments on greenhouse gas reductions that they agreed to at the Kyoto summit in 1997 would damage their economies.

They have found common ground with China, India and South Korea, all developing nations that resist the idea of binding targets on reducing emissions; while Japan, which remains committed to its Kyoto Protocol target, now has a foot in both camps.

Statements from the six governments affirm that the new grouping can co-exist alongside the Kyoto process.

But environmental groups believe the opposite; that it aims to draw countries away from United Nations climate negotiations, and into a pact which dangles the golden carrot of climate relief with no international commitments.

Ben McNeil, a climate scientist at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, said that by itself the partnership was not enough.

"This new pact definitely betters what the current governments in Australia and the US are doing, but it does fall short of effective climate change policy," he told the BBC News website.

"This pact only addresses technology transfer between developing and developed nations; but for effective climate change policy we really need strong domestic measures within the developed world, because that's where most of the emissions are coming from."

Industry on board

Chinese coal worker  (Image: AFP)

The meeting brings together about 400 delegates from the six governments, public sector energy bodies and private industry.

Some of the world's biggest companies such as BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto and ExxonMobil will be represented.

Although discussions will touch on nuclear power, renewable and energy efficiency, the main focus is likely to be on clean coal technologies where carbon dioxide is removed and stored from the waste gas.

The partnership involves four of the world's top five coal-producing countries.

Clean technologies have been demonstrated but currently add significantly to the cost of generation.

Sceptical observers believe that however successful these technologies are, there will be little incentive for any power companies to introduce them without economic instruments such as the Emissions Trading Scheme which the European Union has established to meet its Kyoto Protocol commitments.

Richard Black reports on new energy technologies

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