By Janaki Kremmer Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor
The Christian Science Monitor
The inaugural two-day summit of what many see as an American-led alternative to the Kyoto climate treaty convenes Wednesday in Sydney.
Formed this past July, the new bloc brings together the US, China, India, Australia, South Korea, and Japan. These six nations are responsible for more than 40 percent of the world's greenhouse gases, which many scientists say cause global warming.
Unlike the Kyoto Protocol, which sets emissions targets for nations, the new Asia-Pacific Partnership for Clean Development and Climate aims to reduce emissions voluntarily through the transfer of emerging technologies - including "clean coal," burial of carbon dioxide, and next-generation nuclear power - from industrialized nations to the developing world.
The pact's advocates argue it is a more realistic approach than Kyoto, and commits many of the major nations not yet bound by Kyoto quotas to at least the principle of reducing emissions. The effectiveness of this effort, however, may ride on whether the high- tech systems can be developed fast enough and made commercially enticing for businesses not otherwise compelled to adopt greener methods.
Don Henry, the executive director of the Australian Conservation Foundation in Melbourne, says that a pact based on voluntary action has no teeth. "We have realized after 50 years of tackling the pollution problem that to be [effective] we need laws, not just voluntary agreements."
Experts say that most technology transfers under consideration are not yet commercially viable, and will require millions of dollars in subsidies or investment. Some are still in the research phase. This first meeting will be an attempt by all the six countries to come up with plans and ideas that can be put in motion.
During the meeting, Australia is expected to announce a $75 million contribution to a fund to help develop clean technology in China and India.
"While Kyoto puddles on nicely, the real reductions will come from technology," Australia's Minister for Industry, Ian Macfarlane, told the Sydney Morning Herald. "This is not a diplomatic love-in. It's a hard-edged business plan with targets and reporting duties."
But Mr. Macfarlane indicated that no specific timetable would be used under the new plan.
Ian Campbell, Australia's environmental minister, told reporters in Perth recently that, "We're going to have a 40 percent increase in emissions under the Kyoto Protocol, while the world needs a 50 percent reduction. We've got to find something that works better."
In that search for something better, a number of technologies are likely to be pushed at this week's meeting - many of which play to Australia's economic strengths.
New tech: 'safer' fission, 'clean' coal
Among them is a new generation of safer nuclear reactors that incorporate more safety systems that kick in automatically, relying less on human intervention to avert disasters. Australia, a major supplier of uranium, stands to benefit from rising global interest in nuclear energy, which does not produce the large amounts of greenhouse gases generated by fossil fuels.
Anoner of the new initiatives on the table is a US government "clean coal" project called Future Gen. It aims to develop coal- fired power stations that emit no carbon dioxide. This would include gasifying the coal before burning it, and capturing and storing the CO2 produced.
Though the technology could reduce emissions, critics believe that it could not be scaled up fast enough to halt climate change. It would still benefit the coal industries. Australia exports $14.7 billion in coal, up from $9.5 billion just four years ago.
"Even if it failed to reach the targets 20 or 30 years from now, the coal industry would still make a profit," says Colin Butler, environment expert at the Australian National University in Canberra.
Don Henry adds that without targets and national legislation, the new pact would disadvantage progressive companies as no one else would bear the costs. …