Sydney: Pacific Rim nations began negotiating a contested declaration on climate change on Tuesday as host Australia sought to rally support, with a warning that future economic well-being depended on curbing global warming.
Drafting was moving into high gear before the 21 leaders of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) gathered at Sydney’s Opera House for a weekend summit.
US President George W. Bush arrived late Tuesday with secretary of state Condoleezza Rice and other officials, who headed to a city hotel that lies within a 2.8 metre security fence erected to guard against protests planned for later in the week. Chinese President Hu Jintao went to Canberra, the capital, after visiting mining companies in western Australia that are supplying China’s economic boom.
Their anticipated arrival started the first of an expected series of protests by groups outraged at Apec’s pro-business agenda and by the Iraq war—and Australia’s backing of the US in it. The demonstration, outside Sydney’s main railway station, fizzled an hour after it started with police in numbers overwhelming fewer than 100 demonstrators.
Earlier in a Sydney park, about two dozen supporters of the Falun Gong spiritual movement, which is banned in China as an evil cult, handed out flyers and held up a banner that read, “Apec Nations: Please Act to Stop the Persecution of Falun Gong in China.”
This year’s focus on climate change has moved Apec, which operates by consensus and normally sticks to incremental economic issues, into strangely controversial terrain. Australia’s foreign minister Alexander Downer said Apec countries recognized that sustaining economic growth meant dealing with terrorism, epidemics, natural disasters and other issues beyond business and finance.
“As host this year, we have put climate change on the Apec agenda,” Downer said in a speech to foreign correspondents. “We have done this because we recognize the fact that climate change is a key economic issue, not just an environmental issue.”
Prime Minister John Howard, who alerted Apec members a few months ago that he wanted to discuss climate change, was circumspect about what kind of agreement the leaders would reach, given the differing opinions. He said, however, that “reasonable progress” was being made.
“There’s broad goodwill and there’s broad belief that this conference should provide a way forward on this issue,” he said. “I don’t want to at this stage claim any more than that.” Critics and some Apec officials accuse Howard of putting climate change on the agenda for political purposes, trying to improve low approval ratings by capturing the high ground on environmental issues ahead of upcoming elections.