SYDNEY, Australia – Pacific Rim leaders agreed Saturday to curb global warming by improving energy use and expanding forests, laying out a plan they hope will influence future climate change talks but that critics dismissed as too timid.
President Bush, Russian President Vladimir Putin, China’s Hu Jintao and leaders of other Asia-Pacific economies adopted the program at an annual summit after officials struck a deal between richer and developing nations over targets.
The program’s centerpieces are two modest goals: one on energy efficiency, the other on forests. Unlike the contentious, U.N.-backed Kyoto Protocol, it does not set targets on the greenhouse gas emissions which cause global warming, and its goals are voluntary.
Yet in bringing together the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit’s disparate group of countries on a contentious issue, the program may carry weight in upcoming talks in Washington, New York and Indonesia for a new post-Kyoto blueprint.
And unlike the Kyoto agreement, which largely exempted developing countries from targets, China has signed on to APEC’s goals.
Today, the leaders called for urgent progress on faltering global trade talks.
It was on climate change that APEC leaders hoped to break new ground. The grouping accounts for more than half the world’s economy and contains most of its biggest polluters.
Under the platform, APEC members will reduce “energy intensity” – the amount of energy needed to produce a dollar of gross domestic product – by 25 percent by 2030. They also pledged to increase forest cover in the region by at least 50 million acres by 2020.
“If you have APEC, especially the largest emitters – the U.S., China, Russia, Japan – sign up to an agreement like that, it would be hard to ignore at the global level,” said Malcolm Cook of Sydney-based think-tank the Lowy Institute.
But other climate change experts and environmental activists were dismissive, saying the goals were nonbinding and so modest in scope as to render the program ineffective.
“If the APEC statement is the platform for future action on climate change, then the world is in trouble,” said Greenpeace energy campaigner Catherine Fitzpatrick.