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Commonwealth Nations Debate Climate Change

Commonwealth members say they are gravely concerned about the consequences of climate change, but they have been unable to agree on any plan that would require members to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.

The 53-nation federation of mostly former British colonies issued a statement Saturday saying that climate change threatens the very existence of some of its members - small island nations that could be engulfed by rising sea levels.

However, the Commonwealth summit in Uganda failed to endorse binding targets for all nations to reduce their emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases that are blamed for hastening the global warming trend. Some member countries had pressed for a stronger statement ahead of a major conference on climate change next month in Bali.

The Bali international summit is intended to reach an agreement to replace the Kyoto protocol on lowering harmful emissions. The United States and Australia are among the big powers that have failed to ratify the Kyoto agreement, although Australia's prime minister-designate, Kevin Rudd, has promised to sign the protocol.

In a separate development Saturday in Kampala, Indian diplomat Kamalesh Sharmar was unanimously appointed to lead the Commonwealth as secretary-general. Sharmar, the federation's first Asian leader, will replace Don McKinnon of New Zealand, who is stepping down in April after eight years as secretary-general.

Pakistan is still a focus of discussion point at the summit, although its Commonwealth membership was suspended Thursday because President Pervez Musharraf's government has refused to life the state of emergency he declared on November 3rd. Pakistan has angrily rejected the suspension.

The Commonwealth summit closes Sunday.

Some information for this report provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.