APEC leaders tip watered-down climate pact

Asia-Pacific leaders said on Sunday that talks on a binding international pact to combat the potential disaster of climate change would drag on past a crunch meeting in Copenhagen next month.

Singapore: Asia-Pacific leaders said on Sunday that talks on a binding international pact to combat the potential disaster of climate change would drag on past a crunch meeting in Copenhagen next month.

Instead they backed a face-saving proposal from Danish Prime Minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen -- who jetted in for hastily arranged talks in Singapore -- which would produce a political statement of intent at the December meeting.

Complex negotiations towards an international and legally enforceable successor to the Kyoto Protocol on climate change, which expires in 2012, would then continue.

At the talks attended by leaders including US President Barack Obama and China`s Hu Jintao on the sidelines of an Asia-Pacific summit, there was broad consensus this was the best option for the troubled negotiations, officials said.

"There was an assessment by the leaders that it was unrealistic to expect a full, internationally legally-binding agreement to be negotiated between now and when Copenhagen starts in 22 days," US Deputy National Security Adviser Mike Froman told reporters.

Froman said Rasmussen told the meeting "he would seek to achieve a politically binding agreement that covered all the major elements of the negotiations" during the conference in his capital.

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Mexican Prime Minister Felipe Calderon had convened the climate change talks before the closing session of the 21-member Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit.

In a final declaration, APEC called for "an ambitious outcome in Copenhagen" but dropped a proposal included in earlier summit drafts to slash their greenhouse gas emissions to half their 1990 levels by 2050.

Environmental group WWF said the leaders had "missed a great opportunity to move the world closer to a fair, ambitious and binding agreement" in Copenhagen and that they should start solving the issue rather than merely discussing it.

"At APEC, there was far too much talk about delay, and what won’t be accomplished in Copenhagen. This does not look like a smart strategy to win the fight against climate change," spokeswoman Diane McFadzien said in a statement.

China`s Hu said he hoped for "positive results" in Copenhagen and vowed his government was "ready to work together with all parties to achieve this goal."

But Hu also repeated Beijing`s position that the developed world must bear the brunt of emissions cuts and provide technology and financial help to poor countries to try to mitigate climate change.

Arkady Dvorkovich, chief economic adviser to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, said the leaders "are ready to strike a political agreement which would give an impetus to the negotiations process."

Medvedev called for a "roadmap" to govern negotiations in 2010-2011 for a new treaty, he said.

Japanese leader Yukio Hatoyama told reporters he hoped to attend the 7-19 Copenhagen talks and said he had pressed the other leaders gathered in Singapore to do the same.

Obama, speaking to fellow APEC leaders before the summit wrapped up, acknowledged the concerns of developing nations which are pressing rich countries to bear the brunt of the financial cost of addressing climate change.

"We must seek a solution that will allow all nations to grow and raise living standards without polluting our atmosphere and wreaking havoc on our climate," he said.

"Such a solution cannot be possible without the participation of the APEC economies," he said.

Developing nations have called for wealthy economies to bear greater responsibility for halting global warming and provide financial and other forms of assistance to help poorer nations reduce energy consumption and emissions.

Industrialised nations are, in turn, are pressing emerging giants such as China, India and Brazil, which are now huge emitters, to strengthen promises to tackle their own greenhouse-gas output.

Myanmar, also known as Burma, is a member of the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, and Obama is sitting in on their meeting. A US President has never met with a leader of the Burmese junta, one of the world`s worst human-rights offenders.

Despite the new engagement, the Obama administration has said that sanctions will not be lifted unless Burma`s rulers make democratic progress, such as releasing opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and democracy icon who has been under house arrest for most of the last two decades.

Obama aides as well as outside Asia experts have defended the administration`s new gamble on Burma, even while admitting it may not succeed.

"One definition of insanity is to do the same thing over and over and expect a different outcome," said Jeffrey Bader, Obama`s top Asia adviser.

Bureau Report