APEC meeting fizzles to inconclusive end

Posted in Asia , Other | 10-Sep-07 | Author: Tim Johnston | Source: International Herald Tribune

Riot police detaining a protester during a rally against the APEC summit in Sydney on Saturday.

SYDNEY: The much-anticipated Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in Sydney limped to a close Sunday, with a heavily compromised agreement on tackling climate change, few answers on how to push the global trade agenda forward and a huge security operation that ended up a laughing stock.

At the top of the agenda at this year's meeting of the Pacific Rim grouping - whose 21 member countries include the United States, China, Russia, Australia and Indonesia - were global warming and the stalemate that has paralyzed the Doha round of trade negotiations. On both fronts, there was only limited success.

"The world needs to slow, stop and then reverse the growth of global greenhouse gas emissions," the leaders said in a joint statement on the climate. But the agreement is vague, adopting nonbinding targets for slowing the increase in carbon emissions. They hope that by 2030, for every 1 percent of growth in national output, the increase in carbon emissions will be held to 0.75 percent.

The statement bought a swift riposte from environmentalist campaigners, who say cuts in emissions are needed and that concrete targets are the only solution.

"It's business as usual," said Ben Pearson of Greenpeace. "Energy intensity improves over time anyway: As the Chinese economy moves from steel to Starbucks it is going to use relatively less energy. What isn't going to drop is energy usage."

Howard said the deal was the best that could be reached in the circumstances and was an important step forward. "What one has to do is find the maximum that individual countries will agree to at the present time, take that, bank it and move on to something further in the future," he told journalists.

But critics say the lack of ambition displayed in the climate change statement is indicative of a lack of urgency, and a worrying sign that the sort of lowest-common-denominator agreements brokered by large multinational bodies are unlikely to achieve substantial change until it is too late.

Business leaders sent a clear signal to APEC last week that they needed a clear, reliable framework before they could make the huge investments required in new, more efficient generating and production capacity. The APEC Business Advisory Council told the political leaders that the most effective mechanism would likely involve some kind of carbon trading scheme. But there was no mention of such a scheme in the final communiqué.

The leaders also issued a statement supporting the deadlocked Doha round of trade talks, but it was short on specifics. "In terms of Doha and trade, it was a missed opportunity," said Alistair Gee of the Christian World Service, a church-based humanitarian agency.

"The positions are not that far apart, but there is a sense that the political will isn't there," Foreign Minister George Yeo of Singapore told a gathering of Pacific Rim business leaders, referring to the global talks.

The APEC meeting was almost as remarkable for what was not on the agenda as for what was: The only mention of terrorism was a passing reference in paragraph 15 of the final statement.

Since 2001, security issues have dominated almost all the multilateral conferences that have included the United States. But in Sydney, President George W. Bush cut a lonely figure, using his media appearances to defend policies in Iraq that most leaders clearly considered less important than climate change and trade.

But the Australians were taking no chances with their guests. They spent more than 170 million Australian dollars, or about $140 million, on security, including a 5-kilometer, or 3-mile, steel and concrete fence that cut off large parts of Sydney.

About 5,000 demonstrators gathered for a rally Saturday, protesting on a wide range of issues: Iraq, the environment, the restrictions imposed for the APEC meeting and homophobia, to name a few. The rally was largely peaceful, although the police said 17 people had been arrested, some because they entered restricted areas.

Many mainstream organizations like Greenpeace and labor unions had encouraged their supporters to stay away, fearing that the rally might be hijacked by violent militant groups.

The security efforts kept the demonstrators away, but proved less than fully effective against the wiles of a comedy TV show. A crew from the state-funded Australian Broadcasting Corp. show "The Chaser's War on Everything" managed to deliver a man dressed as Osama bin Laden to within 20 meters, or 65 feet, of Bush's hotel by bluffing their way through two police checkpoints. Chas Licciardello was only caught when he emerged from the three-car convoy dressed in a turban and a long false beard.

The police said they did not find it funny, that they were not embarrassed, and that the incident proved security had worked well. A straw poll of Sydney residents over the weekend suggested most thought they were wrong on all counts.