Sunday, September 9, 2007

APEC: The Sydney Declaration a Climate Distraction

While thousands of people protested in the streets of Sydney about the war in Iraq, climate change, and civil liberties, the 21 APEC leaders made a fashion statement on the steps of the Opera House, before meeting inside and signing the Sydney Declaration - a statement on climate change, that is being widely criticised by environmentalists and climate activists.

According to details from a draft of the declaration being widely circulated by the media, the APEC wide regional aspirational goal is to reduce energy intensity by at least 25 percent by 2030 from the 2005 level, and set an APEC-wide regional goal of increasing forest cover in the region by 20 million hectares by 2020.

About the Sydney declaration Australian Prime Minister Howard said "Firstly the need for a long-term aspirational global emissions reduction goal, and that is enshrined in the Sydney Declaration," he said. "Secondly the need for all nations, no matter what their stage of development, to contribute according to their own capacities and their own circumstances to reducing greenhouse gases."

Prime Minister John Howard and US President George Bush will play up the Sydney Declaration as a win for combatting climate change but Howard has already been effectively contradicted by his own foreign minister Alexander Downer. In April 2007, Alexander Downer told an APEC lecture in Melbourne that aspirational targets are a "political stunt" and "not a real target at all".

"I think you have to face up to the fact that, within the APEC group, there are Economies… that believe in setting CO2 emission targets, by particular dates. Some of them, of course, are just aspirational targets: which is code for “a political stunt”. An aspirational target is not a real target at all.” said Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer at the Monash APEC lecture.

Greenpeace spokeperson Catherine Fitzpatrick said "If this statement is the platform we build future climate change action on, the world is in trouble," she said. "Because this is a statement with no recognition of binding targets, it has no targets for the future. Without binding targets for developed countries, it's little more than a political stunt by the prime minister."

Executive Director of the Australian Conservation Foundation, Don Henry, told the Herald Sun "Today's declaration does not advance global discussions on climate change. History shows vague aspirational goals do not lead to reductions in greenhouse emissions. The Kyoto Protocol was established precisely because the aspirational targets of the early 90s failed to stop the spiralling rise in global emissions."

Australia and the USA are the only two developed nations who have not signed the Kyoto Protocol, the international agreement on reducing emissions to the year 2012.

The Chinese President, Mr Hu in a speech on September 7 called on countries to uphold the Kyoto Protocol and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, calling them "the core mechanism and main avenue of co-operation" for tackling climate change.

Developing nations were determined not to sign up to a specific goal on emissions, especially when Australia and the USA, the two biggest greenhouse gas polluters on a per capita basis, had not signed up for the Kyoto targets.

The Governments of the USA and Australia do not want to work within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) framework after Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012, and are actively undermining any such agreement that follows on using this framework. The next meeting of the United Nations Climate Change Conference is in Bali, 3 - 14 December 2007.


* Alexander Downer, 19 April 2007, Monash APEC lecture (PDF)
* Greenpeace Sept 6, 2007, Downer admits aspirational goals “political stunt”
* Melbourne Herald Sun, Sept 8, 2007, Greenpeace slams APEC climate pact
* ABC Online Sept 8, 2007, Leaders wear Driza-Bones for APEC photo