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US Defends Climate Change Policy Ahead of Sydney Conference

The Bush administration is defending its approach on global climate change in advance of a six-nation Asia-Pacific conference on the issue next week in Sydney, Australia. Environmental groups allege the meeting is an effort to bypass the 1997 Kyoto treaty on global warming, to which the United States and Australia are not parties.

Senior Bush administration officials say the Sydney meeting is not an effort to circumvent the Kyoto Protocol, but rather to complement it with action that goes beyond the treaty, which focuses only on greenhouse gas emissions.

The comments came at a Friday news conference by administration officials who will head the U.S. delegation to the six-nation Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate next week.

The meeting will be the first for the partnership, which includes Australia, China, India, Japan and South Korea along with the United States and was set up under an agreement last July.

The officials said the six countries, which collectively represent about half the world's population, economic output and energy use, will aim to reduce air pollution and increase energy efficiency by sharing technology and promoting research.

They said the meeting would yield no mandatory emission limits, but that the United States would come to the table with specific pledges including cutting electric power plant emissions by 70 percent within 10 years, and expectations of action plans by other participants.

The meeting has been preceded by heavy criticism by environmental groups that it is a maneuver to bypass the binding commitments of the Kyoto treaty.

But Undersecretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs Paula Dobriansky said the partnership, including both members and non-signatories of the Kyoto treaty, aims to complement the Kyoto limits:

"In this case it goes beyond the Kyoto protocol," she said. "The shared commitment supports the essence of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, terms of the mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions. However this partnership is unique, it is innovative, because it goes beyond. It addresses and deals with economic growth, energy security, dealing with air pollution. There are inter-related goals and objectives by which we see multiple benefits coming out of this."

The environmental activist group Greenpeace dismissed the partnership, however, as an effort by the Bush administration to give the appearance of addressing global warming, but with only voluntary curbs with no specific timeline to reduce greenhouse gases.

A Greenpeace energy specialist in Washington, John Coequyt , told VOA the environmental commitments to be presented by the U.S. side in Sydney are not new.

"Nothing significant at this point is coming out of this pact," he said. "It is a repackaging of existing initiatives. In fact I was in Montreal for the Kyoto negotiations last year in December, and we asked the lead negotiator for the U.S. this exact question: is anything new happening under this six-nation pact? And he wasn't able to identify a single initiative that was new. So unless they've come up with something in the meantime, which I seriously doubt because they haven't even met yet, there are no large initiatives coming out of this and so there are no significant gains."

The United States originally signed the Kyoto Protocol but the Bush administration pulled out in 2001, saying the binding emissions cuts would hurt the U.S. economy.

The administration accepts the principle that human activity is contributing to a rise in global temperatures, and has suggested an 18 percent voluntary reduction in greenhouse gas intensity by 2012.

Greenpeace says the U.S. formulation would still mean overall higher levels of the heat-trapping gases.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was to have led the U.S. delegation to the Sydney conference. But she decided Friday to cancel her planned trip to Indonesia and Australia in order to monitor Middle East events, given Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's health crisis.

The U.S. team in Sydney will instead be headed by Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman and Ms. Dobriansky.