The United States, Australia, China, India, Japan, and South Korea have agreed to work together to push new energy technology as a way to reduce dangerous emissions that pollute the air and warm the atmosphere.
President Bush says clean technology is the best way to reduce the danger posed by greenhouse gases while promoting development.
That theory is at the heart of this new agreement. It does not mandate country targets for curbing emissions, like the Kyoto Protocol. Instead, it promotes the use of alternative, cleaner energy sources.
Jim Connaughton, head of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, stressed the agreement provides the six countries with the ability to share ideas and resources including "sharing programs, sharing dollars and sharing opportunities for private investment."
He emphasized that this agreement is not the U.S. alternative to the Kyoto Protocol, but will complement the international pact on climate change. "It will not replace the Kyoto Protocol. The Kyoto Protocol remains in place," he said.
The president's top advisor on the environment noted that four of the six signatories to the new Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate have ratified the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. The United States and Australia have not. Together, the six account for about 50 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions world wide.
When asked if there were plans to ultimately expand the partnership, Mr. Connaughton noted that it will be a challenge just to bring these six together in a coordinated effort. "If we started too large it would get bogged down in administration rather than action," he said.
Negotiations on the partnership deal have been in the works for five or six months. Mr. Connaugton said it has been discussed at the highest levels, including during separate meetings President Bush had at the White House just last week with Australian Prime Minister John Howard, and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
Mr. Bush based his opposition to the Kyoto Protocol largely on the fact that it did not mandate emission reduction targets for developing countries. And White House officials made clear that bringing India and China into this technology partnership was considered crucial.
The United States is the world's biggest producer of greenhouse gases, with China just behind. Environmentalists have repeatedly called on President Bush to back Kyoto and its mandatory emission curbs, and their early reaction to word of the partnership agreement ranged from skeptical to hostile.
In a brief written statement, the president said this new results-oriented partnership will promote cleaner, more efficient energy technologies in a way that eases pollution, security and climate concerns. At the same time, he said, it will reduce poverty and spur development.
First indication an agreement had been reached came from the Australian government. American officials confirmed its existence just hours before an official announcement was scheduled by officials of the six countries gathered in Laos for a regional meeting.