World's biggest polluters won't cut back on fossil fuel

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Thursday, January 12, 2006

Economic growth and pollution is said to be the major cause of climate change

Six of the world's major polluters, who participated in this week's Asia Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate (AP6 or APPCDC), have launched a multi-million dollar fund to develop clean-energy, but stressed they will be heavily reliant on polluting fossil-fuels for generations to come.

Green groups, labelling the talks a sham, have condemned the climate talks which were held in Sydney, Australia as a "coal and nuclear pact" between the big polluters and fossil-fuel firms. Australian climate change observers have attacked the AP6 outcomes as grossly irresponsible, saying the Federal Government is willing to accept the reality of runaway climate change.

A communique released by the AP6 states: "We recognise that fossil fuels underpin our economies, and will be an enduring reality for our lifetimes and beyond" - the document said. Green groups say the pact has missed a vital opportunity to commit to renewable energy sources. They say the two-day meeting failed to make any serious commitments in combatting global warming.

Combined, the United States, China, Japan, India, South Korea and Australia, account for around half the globe's greenhouse gases. The six countries set up the summit as an ulterior method of tackling global warming outside the Kyoto Protocol by, they say, focussing on "clean-energy technology."

Nuclear Power, clean coal technologies, geosequestration and industry-driven environment funds were some of the proposals raised at the summit. Unlike the Kyoto Protocol the six nations have not set any targets to cut greenhouse gases.

Climate change observers have broadly criticised the AP6 as a waste of time. Australian Climate Institute's Clive Hamilton says the meeting did little to cut greenhouse gas emissions. "I think really this conference is about trying to protect the long-term future of the coal industry," he said. "If you look at the sort of business people who have a seat at the table at the conference in Sydney, they overwhelmingly represent the polluting industries rather than those that will at some time in the future replace them - the renewable energy and energy efficiency industries."

CSIRO chief scientist Dr David Brockway says the technology required to reduce greenhouse emissions is not viable for industry.

"It has to be borne in mind that anything we are going to do to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and intensity from the Australian economy will come at a cost," he said. "What we are doing at the moment is doing research to try and reduce the size of that additional cost. I would say in a five to 10 year timeframe a number of these technologies will become viable."

An AP6 communique issued at the end of the conference said reductions in greenhouse gases must be achieved without hindering economic growth - "the partnership aims to mobilise domestic and foreign investment into clean and low-emission technology by fostering the best possible enabling environments," it states. Some of the world's big mining and energy firms attended the talks and pledged to improve efficiency.

Green groups, who were left out of the conference, say the talks were aimed at subverting Kyoto - which obligates some 40 developed countries to cut greenhouse emissions by 5 percent below 1990 levels during 2008-2012. "Basically, they haven't agreed to do anything in terms of serious commitment," said Monash University climate change expert Professor Amanda Lynch. The United States and Australia refuse to sign Kyoto claiming its mandatory greenhouse gas cuts would threaten economic growth.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard said, "experience has taught us that seeking arbitrary targets doesn't result in achieving practical solutions to global climate change." Mr Howard stressed the importance of maintaining economic growth to alleviate poverty, while cutting greenhouse emissions.

"The world will go on using fossil fuels for many years into the future because it's more economic to do so," said the Australian Prime Minister at the AP6.

He said the summit had injected "an overdue dose of realism into the debate about climate change. We believe it is possible to tackle issues of greenhouse gas emissions and the challenge of climate change without reducing living standards," he said. "The world will go on using fossil fuels for many years into the future because it's more economic to do so. So therefore it's elementary commonsense that you should try and make the use of fossil fuels more greenhouse gas sensitive, you should try and clean up the use of fossil fuel," he said.

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) have dismissed Mr Howard's comments as misleading and irresponsible. The WWF's chief executive Greg Bourne said, "in my whole business career, I have never seen a more misleading public statement as that... If the statements made today become a reality, this will lock us in to a four-degree rise in global average temperatures, when two-degrees is considered extremely dangerous," he said. "There couldn't be anything more irresponsible than to knowingly embark on a path towards massive increases in emissions and runaway global warming."

The AP6 nations said in the final communique that the eight public/private partnership taskforces created at the conference, will draw up action plans by the middle of 2006 on issues including renewable energy, power generation, cleaner fossil fuels and coal mining.

Environmentalists said the Sydney pact was doomed to fail because it did not impose targets on its members which comprise nearly half of humanity. The New South Wales Nature Conservation Council said the group's voluntary approach was a "licence for government and business to do nothing". "Without any incentives or penalties there is no reason for industry to move away from burning polluting coal and oil," said the council's Cate Faehrmann.

The AP6 countries encompass: 49 per cent of world GDP; 48 per cent of the world energy consumption; 48 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions; and 45 per cent of the world's population.

Many scientists say global warming is melting glaciers, raising sea levels and will cause more intense storms, droughts and floods. Current levels of carbon dioxide and methane in the atmosphere are higher now than at any time in the past 650,000 years, research from Antarctic ice cores shows.

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