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Environmental Groups Claim Climate Change Conference 'Farcical'

Rich Bowden, Worldpress.org contributing editor, Sydney, Australia, January 20, 2006

The Australian Greens and Greenpeace protest the developed world's dependence on fossil fuels last week outside the meeting of the Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate in Sydney, Australia. (Photo: Torsten Blackwood / AFP-Getty Images)

The recently concluded meeting of the Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate, in Sydney, Australia, has been heavily criticized by environmental groups who say the decision to request only voluntary targets from businesses to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, and the meeting's commitment to continued economic growth have rendered the climate change conference meaningless.

"As might be expected from a pact between six of the world's biggest coal exporters and users, this appears to be a deal to do nothing," Greenpeace spokeswoman Catherine Fitzpatrick said.

Nature Conservation Council director Cate Faehrmann condemned the lack of a solid commitment to alternative energy: "The talks are intended to divert attention away from solutions like renewable energy in favor of non-binding targets using technologies that don't even exist yet.

"Renewable energy such as solar, wave and wind power is here and we know it works. The so-called Asia-Pacific Partnership is essentially a coal pact that allows Australia to continue to do next to nothing to stop climate change," Faehrmann said.

Attended by China, the United States, India, Japan, South Korea and Australia — countries that together account for over half of the world's pollutants — the conference was seen in part as an alternative to the 1997 Kyoto agreement, the landmark agreement which laid down verifiable targets for cutting greenhouse gas emissions and began a worldwide trading system to encourage investment in cleaner technologies. Supported by all developed economies in the world with the notable exception of the United States and Australia, the Kyoto pact was seen widely as the first step against controlling the carbon emissions that have caused global warming.

In refusing to sign the treaty, the United States and Australia have actively campaigned against the Kyoto protocols saying adherence to the targets would harm economic growth. With both economies heavily dependent of fossil fuel resources, the U.S. and Australian governments have been censored throughout the world for supporting economic growth over climate change. Though both India and China have ratified the treaty, as developing economies, they are not subject to the initial targets set out in Kyoto for cutting carbon emissions.

In setting out the four aims of the conference as being "energy security, reduction of air pollution, promotion of economic growth and mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions," U.S. chief negotiator Paula Dobriansky outlined one of the key problems of the conference for green groups who claim reduction in greenhouse gas emission and a concentration on economic growth are mutually incompatible.

Environmentalists claim that unchecked industrial growth would result in further pollutants being expelled into the earth's atmosphere as heavy industry strives for more output.

However, U.S. Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman, speaking at the summit, disagreed and asked people to trust the corporate sector saying he was confident business groups would be mindful of future generations.

"The people who run the private sector, who run these companies, also have children and grandchildren," said Secretary Bodman to reporters.

"They too live and breathe in the world and would like [climate change] dealt with effectively."

Don Henry, director of the Australian Conservation Foundation, was dismissive of Secretary Bodman's analysis saying that a strict government regulatory system not a voluntary targets mechanism was the only known successful method to force companies to comply with environmental laws.

"The experience of reducing pollution of all kinds is that it has required strong laws," Henry said.

Members of the conference resolved to form eight committees to study various aspects of climate change technology and alternative resources and will report back in a year's time. One of the more controversial areas of research is the investigation of nuclear technology as a more climate friendly and viable alternative to resources such as coal.

The Australian government also contributed a sum of $100 million to facilitate research into technologies designed to reduce emissions, an amount described by Australia's opposition Labor Party as paltry.

"This is $100 million over five years — in other words only $20 million next year," said deputy opposition leader Jenny Macklin.

"They should be spending that money on making sure we have technology that really does clean up our emissions and reduce greenhouse gas."

The business sector though has supported the conference saying it has provided them with an excellent opportunity to address the problem of climate change in a "pro-growth context," and claim a commitment to increased economic growth, far from increasing the emission of pollutants into the earth's atmosphere, will result in the rapid development of technologies designed to reduce greenhouse gases.

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