Climate pact panned as diversionary tactic

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Policy experts say treaty is designed to distract from Kyoto.

Australia and the United States are plugging new technologies instead of emissions reductions. Credit: © Alamy

Australia and five other nations have signed a pact that the Australian government has said is superior to the Kyoto Protocol.

On 28 July, Australia, China, India, South Korea, Japan and the United States announced that they had signed an independent pact to help tackle climate change. But experts have criticized them for not adopting targets for emission reductions.

The Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate, which promotes using new technologies to reduce the amount of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere, has been worked out in secret by the parties involved, so its announcement has come as something of a surprise.

'Leave us alone'

“They want to say 'Leave us alone, we're already doing something.' Jeff Fiedler , Natural Resources Defense Council in Washington”

Climate-policy experts say that although the aims of the pact are worthwhile, it contains no new financial commitments or targets. Australia and the United States are the only two developed nations not to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, and experts say the pact is likely to be used by them to deflect pressure to accept future versions of the protocol.

"They want to say 'Leave us alone, we're already doing something'," says Jeff Fiedler, a climate-policy specialist with the Natural Resources Defense Council in Washington. Talks about what to do when the protocol expires will begin in earnest in November.

The Australian government is under pressure at home because of its anti-Kyoto stance, says Steve Howard of the UK-based Climate Group, an independent body that brings together organizations interested in reducing greenhouse-gas emissions.

"The opposition there has said that it would ratify Kyoto, so the government needs to be seen to be doing something," says Howard.

Technology alternative

Experts caution that there isn't really anything new within the pact itself. Both the United States and Australia have long promoted technological solutions as the best way to tackle climate change. "The United States already has bilateral technology cooperation agreements with all the countries involved," points out Fiedler.

Energy experts say that new technologies, such as renewable energy systems and more efficient vehicles, are a vital part of climate-change measures. But they add that emission targets are the best way to act now.

"I don't see this announcement as a threat, but it reflects a way of thinking that could threaten effective action," says Michael Grubb, an energy economist at Imperial College in London.

"Technology cooperation is being presented as an alternative to the hard issues of building incentives for energy efficiency and low-carbon technology investment by the private sector, which has to include regulating carbon emissions," says Grubb.

Win-win situation

The pact makes practical sense for all involved.

India, China and the United States all rely on coal as an energy source, so they have a mutual interest in technology that could make fuel more environmentally friendly.

The pact could also give its three developed nations, Japan, the United States and Australia, better access to energy-technology markets in India, China and South Korea. These three developing countries will need such input if they agree to cut emissions in the future.

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Natural Resources Defense Council in Washington

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Giles, J. Climate pact panned as diversionary tactic. Nature (2005) doi:10.1038/news050725-12

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