Singapore: With little prospect of any new climate change initiatives emerging at an Apec (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) meeting in Singapore this weekend, the climate agenda might instead focus on liberalizing trade in green goods and services.
Keeping the fragile global economic recovery on track will dominate the talks at the 21-member group meeting, but climate change is also expected to feature prominently with just weeks to go before a major United Nations (UN) climate gathering. Analysts, however, say the leaders will offer no major initiatives to give the Copenhagen talks a much needed push.
The UN wants the 7-18 December Copenhagen meeting to yield a broader, and tougher, legally binding agreement by all nations to fight climate change, but negotiations have largely stalled, dimming hopes of success.
Costly disasters: A file photo of a flooded street after a tropical storm in Cainta, Philippines. Recent storms in Taiwan, Vietnam and the Philippines have lowered farm output and pushed up food prices. Nana Buxani / Bloomberg
The Apec forum gathering represents one of the final opportunities ahead of Copenhagen for world leaders to try to overcome differences on the shape of a broader climate pact to fight rising seas, more chaotic weather and threats to crops and livelihoods.
Apec, which ranges from economic giants the US, Japan and China to oil-rich Brunei, accounts for at least 40% of world trade and over 60% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.
“I wouldn’t really expect major progress. I think it’s going to be overwhelmed by trade, financing,” said Changhua Wu, greater China director for think tank The Climate Group.
She pointed to the depressing mood that had settled over the Copenhagen talks process and the huge range of unresolved issues.
“I think we could see greater emphasis on macroeconomic stability in general this year,” said Leong Wai Ho, senior regional economist at Barclays Capital in Singapore.
But he pointed to the region being prone to costly climate disasters such as typhoons and storm surges and the predicted greater intensity of such disasters as the planet warms.
Recent storms in Taiwan, Vietnam and the Philippines have killed hundreds, destroyed roads, bridges, farms and homes, lowered farm output and pushed up food prices.
“This link suggests that despite the distraction from the global economic crisis, Apec leaders are widely expected to call for further cuts in energy consumption amongst themselves at the Singapore meeting,” Leong said.
Wu and other analysts said Apec might try to boost regional trade in clean-energy products and services. “Our argument would be if you want to push the economy into gear again, a very good way to do that would be through green investments because they normally imply a lot of jobs,” said Kim Carstensen, the head of conservation group WWF’s global climate initiative.
China, South Korea and Japan have large spending plans to boost the clean-energy sector and are keen to boost global market share. The US is also pushing for greater market access for its green goods.
In a draft leaders’ declaration obtained by Reuters, Apec backs limiting the global average temperature increase to within 2 degrees Celsius and for emissions to peak within the next few years and then fall by 50% from 1990 levels by 2050. The time frame for the emissions peak would be longer in developing countries, the draft says. It reinforces an earlier goal of reducing energy intensity by at least 25% by 2030 and to try to boost trade in green goods and services.
Given the fragility of the global recovery and concerns over rising unemployment in the US, bread-and-butter issues will dominate leaders’ discussions, said Song Seng Wun, senior economist at CIMB brokerage in Singapore. “First things first is to get the factories humming again and Americans start spending again with their own money,” he said.
The leaders’ final declaration needed to point to goals and benchmarks for success at Copenhagen, said Carstensen. “I would look to them to produce some signals of ambition, referring to Copenhagen as a place where results need to be achieved.”
A key climate benchmark for Apec would be the final text retaining the goal to cut emissions by half by 2050. “Normally it doesn’t survive in these kinds of circumstances,” Carstensen said, referring to past objections from China and other major developing nations on adopting a 2050 emissions target unless rich nations adopt a 2020 target as well. The draft doesn’t mention a 2020 target.
Nopporn Wong-Anan contributed to this story.