India, China and four other nations have agreed to a new climate change pact championed by the United States that advocates new technologies instead of emissions reductions. However, scientists and environmental activists say it will not replace the Kyoto Protocol, and are sceptical it will result in necessary reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, widely blamed for global warming.
"If it leads to real and meaningful reductions in greenhouse gases... then it is a welcome step forward," said Klaus Toepfer, executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
"It is important to mention that this new initiative is not a substitute for the Kyoto Protocol," Toepfer added.
Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from industrial and other human sources need to be reduced by 60 percent, so all ideas and reduction initiatives are welcome, he said.
Greenpeace, among other environmental organisations, is more critical of the six-nation deal.
"The pact, rather than saving the climate, is nothing more than a trade agreement in energy technologies," Greenpeace Climate Campaigner Stephanie Tunmore said in a statement.
Voluntary technology agreements, negotiated by the world's worst polluters, are not going to result in global emission reductions of the necessary 70-80 percent from industrialised countries by mid-century in order to avoid catastrophic climate change, Tunmore said.
On Thursday, Australia, China, India, South Korea, Japan and the United States signed the Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate in Vientiane, Laos. The participants agreed "to create a new partnership to develop, deploy and transfer cleaner, more efficient technologies and to meet national pollution reduction, energy security and climate change."
But there is little new in the agreement, which appears to be a repackaging of existing bilateral and multilateral technology transfer efforts the U.S. has been pushing for the last several years, according to the Pew Centre on Global Climate Change.
The Pew Center is a U.S.-based group that works with the business sector to provide unbiased information and solutions on climate change.
The Kyoto Protocol also includes technology transfer to developing countries under its so-called "Clean Development Mechanism" provision. Past efforts by the U.S. to use and transfer "clean technologies" have had little impact on reducing GHG emissions or promoting economic development, the Pew Centre has found.
"Technology alone is unlikely to be enough. We're going to need industry incentives and more government intervention," said Daniel Bodansky, a professor of international law at the University of Georgia and a climate change policy negotiator for the U.S. State Department from 1999-2001.
Bodansky agrees that there is little new in the plan, but points out that it is the most explicit the George W. Bush administration has been thus far in recognising that global warming is a problem.
According to various media reports, the partnership is a result of yearlong secret talks initiated by the U.S. and Australia, the only two developed countries that have refused to participate in the Kyoto Protocol, which requires industrialised countries to reduce emissions about six percent below 1990 levels by the year 2012.
Less developed nations such as India, China and South Korea are exempt until 2012 when the Protocol expires and a new, yet-to-be negotiated international climate change treaty that includes all countries will take its place.
Even though the U.S. is the world's biggest emitter of GHGs, the present administration remains strongly opposed to any mandatory emissions reductions.
The six-nation pact is a clever repackaging of existing agreements to make it appear that the U.S. position on climate change is aligned with India and China's, Bodansky told IPS.
In fact, China and India are strong supporters of the Kyoto process.
At the Group of Eight (G8) meeting in Scotland earlier this month, China, Brazil, India and South Africa issued a joint statement (pdf document) endorsing the Kyoto treaty and urged the U.S. to "take the lead in international action to combat climate change by fully implementing their obligations of reducing emissions."
And the U.S. is being blamed for the failure of the G8 to take any concrete steps to fight global warming, such as setting targets or timetables for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
The ongoing international pressure explains why the U.S. needed to come up with some kind of alternative approach, Bodansky said, adding that "it will also help the U.S. set the agenda for the post-Kyoto negotiations."
Those negotiations are set to start this November in Montreal, Canada under the auspices of the U.N. Climate Change Conference.
Perhaps coincidentally, the Asia-Pacific group's first meeting will also be in November, but across the world in Adelaide, Australia.
And the one concrete item on climate change that arose from the G8 summit was an agreement to start a new round of international talks in Britain. When? In November, of course.