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Last Updated: Thursday, 28 July 2005, 19:40 GMT 20:40 UK
Climate pact: For good or bad?
By Richard Black
BBC environment correspondent

Factory in Slovakia, AP
Some environmentalists are sceptical the new pact will work
On the surface, there's no conflict between the new Asia-Pacific Partnership for Clean Development and Climate and the United Nations process which led to the Kyoto Protocol.

So said Australia's Environment Minister Ian Campbell on Wednesday; so said US Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick as he unveiled the pact in the Laotian capital, Vientiane.

But as the principal architects of this new agreement, the US and Australia would say that, wouldn't they?

Support has come, though, from other quarters, including Britain's environment minister Elliot Morley, who said: "I very much welcome the fact that we are seeing co-operation between some countries which are not signatories to Kyoto; I believe that all countries should sign up to Kyoto, but the fact that people are working together... I think that's a welcome step forward."

The issue is whether those European governments have enough solidarity to make tough decisions when their own positions may be rather weak
Philip Clapp, National Environmental Trust
In public at least, G8 leaders can say little else.

The final communiqué from the G8 summit held in Scotland earlier this month made clear that clean technologies, and the transfer of these technologies to developing countries, would be key to controlling the rise in global greenhouse gas emissions - so, agreements like the Asia-Pacific deal can be seen simply as a route to achieving the Kyoto goals.


Why, then, are environmental groups so down on the pact - and are they right?

"We should recognise this as a serious attempt to come up with something which is needed if the major developing nations are to be engaged," commented climate change specialist Jacqueline Karas, from Chatham House, the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London, to the BBC News website.

"The US has succeeded in engaging with three major developing economies in an effort to ensure they don't have to follow the same polluting path that industrialised countries followed in their development.

"But I think at the same time it is fair to say it's a serious attempt by the US to deflect attention away from their own profligate emissions - to look at technology for tomorrow rather than at cuts for today - and it may also be timed to attempt to undermine negotiations in Montreal."

Tony Blair and George Bush at the G8 summit, AP
G8 leaders say their nations are working together
In Montreal, at the end of November, delegates from nearly 200 nations will convene to try and work out a path beyond the Kyoto Protocol.

The European Union believes such a treaty must include mandatory, binding cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.

"[The Asia-Pacific pact] is no substitute for agreements like the Kyoto Protocol and we do not expect it to have a real impact on climate change," the European Commission's environment spokeswoman Barbara Helferrich told BBC News.

"There will have to be binding global agreements, but on what scale and what basis is yet to be decided."

This vision is the polar opposite of what's included in the Asia-Pacific agreement, which is entirely voluntary, entirely technology-based, with no binding targets for reducing emissions, no sanctions, no mechanisms, and as yet no funding.

"What is different and what is disturbing about this initiative is the attempt to organise a bloc of developing countries, including China and India, around what's officially a complementary approach but which could be converted into an opposing bloc," Philip Clapp, president of the political lobby group the National Environmental Trust in Washington DC, said.

Treading softly

Looking ahead to the Montreal negotiations, he said: "I certainly wouldn't put it past the Bush administration to try to weaken Europe's position; and within Europe now, there are clearly questions, for example, about how Berlusconi's government will behave, what the French will do.

"The issue is whether those European governments have enough solidarity to make tough decisions when their own positions may be rather weak."

It is good what the US is doing now, but it's all about technology in 30 years' time; whereas the EU is focussed on this monstrous overload of emissions today
Jacqueline Karas, Royal Institute of International Affairs

According to Jacqueline Karas, the European Union will have to tread softly at the Montreal meeting.

"They're going to have to be careful not to set themselves up against the US in an either/or situation - if they do that they will be undermining themselves," she said.

"And with developing countries there is a need for both approaches. It is good what the US is doing now, but it's all about technology in 30 years' time; whereas the EU is focussed on this monstrous overload of emissions today, but doesn't have a good record in pioneering the clean technology that will be needed in future."

There is also criticism of the new pact on the grounds that it is... well, not new at all.

"There really isn't much new here - it's just the Bush administration merely repackaging initiatives it already has under way with a large group of these countries," said Philip Clapp.

Nevertheless, for developing countries seeking a way forward beyond the Kyoto Protocol, it may prove a rather attractive package with its shiny paper of guaranteed economic growth and its ribbons of exciting new technology - perhaps more enticing than the European offering of mandatory targets and sanctions.

The question remains, though, whether the attractive exterior hides a gift or a gun for the world's climate.

Q&A: The Kyoto Protocol
16 Feb 05 |  Science/Nature


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