APEC rift opens over climate change debate
SYDNEY (Reuters) - Leaders at an Asia-Pacific summit appeared deadlocked on Thursday over what their "Sydney declaration" on climate change and cutting greenhouse gas emissions should say.
China's President Hu Jintao gave only qualified support to Australia's initiative on climate change, while some developing nations criticized Australian and U.S. moves to put climate change at the top of the agenda of the APEC gathering in Sydney.
Hu told a rare news conference after meeting Australian Prime Minister John Howard that he preferred the U.N. framework for handling climate change proposals.
"We very much hope that this Sydney Declaration will give full expression to the position that the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change would remain the main channel for international efforts to tackle climate change," Hu said.
The declaration should also reflect U.N. principles of "common but differentiated responsibilities" towards lowering harmful greenhouse gas emissions, he added.
Malaysia Trade Minister Rafidah Aziz said APEC should not be dealing with emission targets at all.
"I'm saying it is not the place to discuss the whys and the wherefores of climate change and what kind of agreement and so on. It should be the U.N. and the appropriate forums," she told Malaysian journalists.
"We don't want people to use climate change as an issue to target certain countries or penalize certain countries."
Ministers from the Philippines and Indonesia have also questioned the approach.
A major meeting of top officials from around the world under the U.N. framework is set for Indonesia's Bali in December. Governments hope environment ministers will launch a two-year series of talks to find a replacement for the Kyoto agreement.
Australia, as host of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, has put climate change at the top of the agenda.
Its draft declaration calls for a new global framework that would include "aspirational" targets for all APEC members on lowering greenhouse gas emissions, which scientists say is causing the climate to change.
Australia, backed by the United States, says the Kyoto protocol, the world's main climate change treaty, is flawed because it does not commit big polluters in the developing world, such as India and China, to the same kind of targets as industrialized nations.
That approach is getting a decidedly lukewarm response at the APEC meeting from China and developing countries, which prefer to see the whole issue handled under the U.N. framework.
Kyoto's first phase runs out in 2012 and the APEC summit is one of a growing number of efforts to find a formula that brings rich and developing countries together on climate change.
Hu met U.S. President George W. Bush later in the day and talked about China's currency, whose weakness has been an irritant in Sino-U.S. relations.
After an hour-and-a-half meeting with Hu, Bush said: "We talked about Iran and North Korea and Sudan. We talked about climate change and our desire to work together on climate change."
Hu has had a warm reception since his arrival in Australia on Monday, when he visited the mining-rich state of Western Australia before heading to Canberra and a tour of a sheep farm.
But in Sydney, religious group Falun Gong staged a protest against China's human rights record that attracted more than a thousand people in Sydney's Hyde Park.
Australia has launched its biggest ever security operation in Sydney to welcome the 21 leaders attending this week's APEC meetings. Newspapers have dubbed the city of more than 4 million people "Fortress Sydney".
At his news conference, Hu said China was ready to boost international cooperation to ensure its export products met appropriate safety standards.
Food safety was also highlighted at the APEC ministerial meeting, which established an APEC Food Safety Cooperation forum, co-chaired by Australia and China.
The initiative aims to harmonize APEC members' food safety regulations with international standards, among other things, and to explore ways to expand this work to include other products.
(Additional reporting by John Ruwitch, Jalil Hamid, Matt Spetalnick and Richard Pullin)