The United States and five major Asian nations have announced a partnership to develop new energy technologies to reduce pollution and curb global warming without hurting economic development. The plan was officially unveiled Thursday at a ministers' meeting in Laos.

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer announced the Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development. He says it will develop and disseminate clean energy technologies among some of the biggest polluters in the developing and the industrialized world.

"We all recognize the Asia-Pacific region's increasing energy needs. We all recognize the fundamental importance of economic development," he said. "And we all recognize the importance of addressing environmental issues."

The partnership brings together the world's two largest polluters - the United States and China - and four other major Asian economies: Japan, India, Australia and South Korea. Together these six countries contribute more than one-half of the world's so-called greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick says the partnership will allow industrialized partners to gain a better understanding of the challenges facing developing nations.

"We have to listen to our developing country colleagues about some of their particular problems," he said. "India and China in particular both have huge development challenges, of which energy is a critical component."

Mr. Zoellick underscores that the new partnership is not meant to replace or undermine the Kyoto Protocol, but complement it.

The Kyoto Protocol requires 35 industrialized nations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by five percent by the year 2012. The United States and Australian governments have refused to ratify the treaty because it does not mandate pollution curbs in developing nations like China and India.

The new partnership is voluntary, does not have deadlines or pollution reduction targets and cannot enforce compliance.

Despite this, India's Foreign Minister Raoul Inderjit Singh says the partnership will encourage environmental policies that do not hurt economic growth in less wealthy nations.

"The vision statement refers to the Delhi Declaration which made a significant departure from previous declarations by emphasizing the importance of sustainable development and the need for looking at development when considering any climate change approach," said Mr. Singh.

Environmental activists were quick to criticize the six-nation pact as lacking. They say strict targets are needed to cut pollution, which harm the eco-systems around the world.