This week, Australia is hosting the first climate-change conference for a new Asia-Pacific environmental alliance that includes the US, China and India. Critics are warning of an end-run around the Kyoto accords.
The global warming threat has been recognized. But how best to fight it?
For years now, the US has been criticized by the environmental community for its refusal to sign the Kyoto Agreement, which calls for certain countries to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases.
US President George W. Bush only recently admitted a connection between greenhouse gases and global warming, and has said Washington needs to set goals to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions.
Australia's Great Barrier Reef: the country did not sign the Kyoto accord
Along with the US, Australia, Japan and South Korea, both of the world's most populous countries -- China and India, with their burgeoning economies -- are taking part as well. Together, these six countries are responsible for nearly 50 percent of the world's greenhouse gas production.
Focus on storage technologies
One of the focal points of the group's first conference will be the development of climate-protection technologies. In September, the US developed a strategic plan as part of its four-year-old Climate Change Technology Program (CCTP).
The plan stresses the need to research carbon dioxide storage technologies to use in connection with used oil and gas storage stations, called Carbon Capture and Storage technologies, or CCS. At a climate change conference last month in Montreal, participants who did sign the Kyoto Protocol agreed to support the development of CCS technologies.
Moreover, the Sydney attendees will be looking for possibilities to reduce greenhouse gases during aluminum production, which is very energy intensive.
Smog in Beijing. China is the second-largest CO2 producer
At the heart of the new alliance is an attempt to expand energy consumption while at the same time reducing greenhouse gases. In contrast to the Kyoto signatories -- who are pinning hopes on a system of trading in emissions licenses -- they want to achieve change via new technology. In this way, Washington in particular hopes to avoid possible negative economic effects from climate protection measures.
An attempt to avoid Kyoto?
Critics, such as the European Union, have accused the Asia-Pacific partners of trying to undermine the Kyoto agreements.
But Ottmar Edenhofer, of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Research, says a power struggle between the opposing climate alliances is nothing but a mock debate, at least in terms of economic impact.
Success without sanctions?
"It is clear that we need a world wide certificate-trading system as well as a technology accord and technological cooperation. It is the only reasonable way to take the edge off the conflict between economic growth and climate protection."
Industrial pollution in Brazil
There is another reason the EU has been skeptical toward the new Asia-Pacific meeting; in contrast to the Kyoto Protocol, which threatens to sanction states that fail to meet their goals, the Asia-Pacific group's agreements are purely voluntary in nature. There are no set goals to meet for reducing greenhouse gases. In 1997, the Kyoto accords stated that by 2012, 150 industrialized nations needed to reduce certain greenhouse gases by five percent from 1990 levels. Only the US and Australia refused to ratify the accord.
For climate expert Edenhofer, there are no workable alternatives to setting definitive emissions goals, and not only because China is now the second-largest carbon dioxide producing nation.
"These ambitious technologies that the Asian-Pacific partnership want to promote will only be successful in the international marketplace when carbon dioxide (emission) comes at a cost. And there can only be a reasonable cost when there is a possibility of sanctions. I think there will be a learning process in the USA, and in the other nations."
Cause for hope
The Potsdam based researcher is skeptical that the Asian-Pacific partnership and the Kyoto signatories will pull together any time soon in the fight against climate change.
Nonetheless, he said, the recent past gives cause for hope: "Two years ago, most people were skeptical that there would even be emissions trading. Today this system is working on the EU level. That's why I am not completely without hope when it comes to international processes."