Singapore, 29 August Pacific Rim countries will address climate change at a meeting next week because it is a problem that can hurt economic growth and development, a top APEC official said today.
But the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum will not call for binding agreements for its 21 members, which include some of the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitters, including China and the US, said Colin Heseltine, executive director of the APEC Secretariat, in an interview with The Associated Press.
“Scientists can debate and we can have differences about the extent of (climate change), but the fact is that there is an issue there that needs to be tackled,” Heseltine said. “There is the potential for what we do on climate change to have an impact on economic growth and development.”
Australian Prime Minister John Howard, who will chair the annual APEC forum in Sydney, has placed climate change at the top of the agenda for the 8-9 September summit.
Howard, a former climate change skeptic who has steadfastly refused to ratify the 1997 Kyoto Protocol on global warming, said he hopes to create a strategy to fight global warming that avoids setting pollution emission targets, saying countries such as China would balk at any measures that challenge their economic booms.
“We’re not saying APEC will sit down and formally negotiate binding climate change agreements. It doesn’t do that,” Heseltine said. “But what it does do is build a consensus and support what’s going on in other fora.”
In mid-August, the environmental group Greenpeace circulated what it said was a leaked APEC declaration that called on Asia-Pacific leaders to endorse a “flexible” climate change strategy without mandatory pollution targets. Greenpeace condemned the draft declaration _ which calls on major polluters to voluntarily make “measurable and verifiable contributions” to climate change _ as an empty strategy.
Heseltine declined to comment on the authenticity of the document, but said APEC was focused on practical, cooperative measures that add “real value.”
“There are any number of people around who say we must set not just aspirational, but binding, targets. But ... the needs of a giant emerging economy like China, and other, smaller, more established economies are quite different. You can’t expect that you’re going to come up with a one-size-fits-all solution,” he said.
Heseltine said that since its formation in 1989, APEC has evolved to take on issues such as terrorism and bird flu along with the changing international agenda, but that the group remained firmly rooted in its original objectives of promoting trade and investment.
“APEC comes at these issues very much from a perspective of the impact on trade and investment and economic growth,” he said. “Similarly, with climate change it’s very clear that something has to be done to mitigate the effects of climate change.”
On international trade, APEC’s immediate priority is to support a successful outcome of the current round of global trade talks known as the Doha Round, which have stalled, Heseltine said.
The WTO talks have come to a standstill because of differences between the US, EU, Brazil and India on eliminating trade barriers to agricultural produce and manufactured goods.
APEC, meanwhile, will also expand on efforts to create an APEC-wide free-trade area, Heseltine said, but added that the Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific, or FTAAP, remained a long-term prospect that needed further work.
“We’ll see the momentum for that will continue, but it’s recognized that it’s a long-term prospect _ not something that can happen next year or the year after. Obviously you have some economies that want to move ahead faster and some that want to proceed less hastily,” he said.
A Pacific-wide free-trade zone, stretching from the US to Russia and from Chile to Australia, would cover nearly half of global trade, 40% of the world’s population and 56% of its gross domestic product.