Monday, September 10, 2007

"And the nominees for best actor..." How others see the Sydney Declaration

Shane Wright in The West Australian:

If you believe John Howard or Alexander Downer, the Sydney declaration is up there with some of the world’s greatest pieces of policy and statesmanship.

Moses received wisdom on two tablets, Newton discovered gravity under an apple tree and the Federal Government reckons the answer to climate change was found in the bowels of the Sydney Opera House.

Unfortunately, the six-page declaration signed by APEC members is part diplomacy and part political cover for one of Mr Howard’s most obvious policy shortcomings.

Let’s remember a few key points about APEC first...

One: It takes in only 21 economies, so about 15 per cent of the world’s governments.

Two: Nothing agreed to at APEC is legally binding.

Three: Members of APEC can ignore anything agreed to by its leaders.

In other words, any commitments made by the various members are not worth anything more than a non-core promise by a candidate in a Federal election campaign.

Australian officials were keen to talk up what they have achieved.

Correctly, they argue that at least China and the US have agreed to the same sort of general principles, in a public manner.

Judging by the length of time it took China to come on board, signing up only on Friday evening, that in itself is a major achievement.

However, putting (carbon dioxidefree) rubber to the road is another thing altogether.

While there’s no agreement on a binding commitment to cut greenhouse gases, there is an aspirational deal to increase forest cover across the Asia-Pacific region by 20 million hectares and to reduce energy intensity by 25 per cent.

This at least signals to other nations, developing and those outside APEC, what is going to be necessary to tackle climate change.

So for the Federal Government (and the other APEC members), goals on trees and energy intensity are good but they won’t have a bar of a 60 per cent cut in emissions, which is what the world’s scientists are arguing is necessary to prevent Gosnells becoming a beachfront suburb.

And there is still the problem posed by other APEC members that are fighting between lifting their people out of poverty while at the same time protecting the planet.

Thirteen years ago, APEC leaders agreed to the Bogor goals. It was a commitment by APEC nations for free trade between developed member nations by 2010, and developing nations by 2020.

It is a clearly articulated goal, with a timeline, while the benefits of the policy objective of free trade is clear to all.

But when it comes to climate change, which many would argue is of more economic import than free trade, punches have been pulled, countries have gone out of their way to protect narrow interests while the host of the show kept the ambition so low that he could claim an outcome no matter what.

It’s not just Mr Howard’s fault, but a collective blame for most of the region.
The people of the Asia-Pacific deserve much, much better.

Editorial in the LA Times

Posturing on climate

And the nominees for best actor at an international summit are... President George W. Bush, Chinese President Hu Jintao and Australian Prime Minister John Howard. All are giving compelling performances in Sydney this week in the against-type role of leaders who give a fig about global warming.

Climate change tops the agenda at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, which wraps up Sunday. It's an unusual topic for a 21-nation club formed mostly to negotiate trade agreements -- amid all the talk about global warming, Malaysian International Trade Minister Rafidah Aziz noted archly that the "E" in APEC stood for Economic, not Environmental -- but many of the leaders present have political reasons for at least pretending to care about the issue.

Howard, who is fighting for his political life against a much greener opposition party leader, has the most at stake. Australia is suffering severe droughts and wildfires, and polls show that the environment is among Australians' top concerns. His goal is to persuade the U.S., China and Russia -- the world's three biggest polluters -- to sign an "aspirational" agreement for reducing greenhouse gases. For aspirational, read: voluntary, vague and useless for anything but padding a fading prime minister's environmental resume. The heads of state are expected to sign the agreement today.

Even before most of the world leaders arrived, Howard and Bush had signed their own joint statement on climate change, a 16-point plan in which the two countries announced their commitment to practical action without actually proposing any. Bush threw out a few platitudes about global warming during his speech Friday before quickly moving on to a subject with which he's more comfortable: fighting terrorists.

Hu, meanwhile, in the diplomatic tradition of Chinese leaders, politely told Howard to drop dead. He emphasized that the United Nations, not APEC, was the appropriate forum for negotiating climate deals, and that although he welcomed the discussion in Sydney, any agreement at this week's summit must acknowledge that different countries have "differentiated responsibilities." Translation: Don't expect much from China.

Unfortunately, the festival of fakery won't end Sunday. Bush is convening his own international meeting on climate change this month in Washington, and given his focus on voluntary measures and nonexistent technology to solve the problem, there's no reason to expect anything meaningful to come of it. The only hope of progress this year comes from Congress, which is debating energy bills that would crack down on automotive fuel efficiency and require that the nation get more of its power from renewable sources. That won't slow emissions in China, and it's nowhere near enough to halt climate change, but it's a start.