The leaders of 21 Asia-Pacific nations, including the United States, China, Russia and Australia, agreed yesterday to a non-binding set of "aspirational goals" designed to reduce their contribution to global warming.
The so-called Sydney Declaration was championed by Australian Prime Minister John Howard, and largely conformed to the framework U.S. President George W. Bush had suggested earlier this summer, when he indicated he would convene his own conference on climate change, just as the U.N. convenes in Bali to agree to a set of post-Kyoto Protocol goals. And that's the rub.
Howard and Bush see their agreement as valuable because it includes both industrial and developing nations, and because it includes the world's biggest polluters -- on both a pound-for-pound and per capita basis. China, the U.S. and Russia, in that order, contribute the most greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, which the U.S. and Australia, in that order, are the largest per capita contributors.
But advocates see the goals as weak because they amount to improving energy efficiency without committing to any direct reductions in overall pollution. Some scientists have said reducing worldwide emissions of carbon dioxide by 50% or more by 2050 is necessary, and that might require cuts of up to 90% in industrialized nations like the United States. Nowhere in the Sydney Declaration are goals of that scale even hinted at.
Greenpeace said the declaration "looks like business as usual for coal, oil and uranium companies. Which means, if this is the final statement, we are being kept on the road to climate change. Perhaps the Sydney declaration should be called the Sydney Distraction from action on climate change."
But the agreement has some hard and useful targets: Improving energy efficiency of the overall economy by 25% by 2030, and increasing forest cover in the region by 50 million acres by 2020, for instance.
At best it's a start. At worst it is, as Greenpeace suggests, a distraction from the more productive discussion going on now at the U.N.
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