November 22, 2007 (Forbes) – Leaders of 16 Asian nations including China and India signed a pact on the environment Wednesday, pledging action on climate change and forest cover, and promoting the use of nuclear energy. The East Asia Summit members threw their support behind a UN plan as the ‘core mechanism’ for tackling global warming.
They committed to work harder to develop alternative energy sources and cleaner fossil-fuel technologies, and to improve energy efficiency and conservation.
The East Asia Summit, which embraces the 10-nation ASEAN bloc plus Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea, now sets the stage for next month’s UN-backed global climate change talks in Bali.
After the United Nations warned that illegal logging is devastating Southeast Asia’s tropical rain forests, the leaders set a goal to increase forest cover by at least 15 million hectares (37 million acres) by 2020.
They also agreed to cooperate on the ‘development and the use of civilian nuclear power,’ amid concerns soaring oil prices could hurt regional economic growth, according to their joint declaration.
But they stressed that the use of atomic energy will be carried out in a ‘manner ensuring nuclear safety, security and non-proliferation’ by adopting safeguards within the framework of the International Atomic Energy Agency watchdog.
Environmental groups have voiced concerns over the disposal of nuclear waste and the danger that plutonium — a key ingredient for making atomic weapons — could fall into the wrong hands.
A key focus of concern is Southeast Asian extremist group Jemaah Islamiyah, blamed for a series of attacks in the region including the 2002 Bali bombings that killed 202 people.
‘Turning of the tide’
The 16 nations also agreed to work towards reducing energy intensity — a measure of the energy efficiency of a nation’s economy — but dropped plans to aim for a 25 percent reduction by 2030.
An earlier draft of the declaration obtained by Agence France-Presse indicated that India had objected to the 25 percent goal.
Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer expressed optimism that China and India would agree to eventually cut greenhouse gas emissions and said the East Asia Summit pact helped ‘pave the way for a successful Bali meeting.’
‘I think there has been a turning of the tide in terms of China and India’s positions on climate change,’ Downer told reporters.
‘Now we are at last seeing these major developing countries saying yes, we need to do things as well to stabilize greenhouse gas emissions,’ he said.
Two of the world’s worst polluters, China and India ratified the Kyoto Protocol on climate change but, as developing nations, were not obliged to achieve fixed emissions reduction targets.
Delegates to the Bali talks will discuss a successor treaty to the Kyoto Protocol, which developed nations say must push China and India to cut pollution.
China’s Prime Minister Wen Jiabao said earlier Wednesday that he will seek to increase cooperation with Asian nations on climate change and that the country will try to freeze its key pollution emissions at 2005 levels.
He said he would propose an international climate change forum in China next year to improve the region’s ability to address global warming.
Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda also unveiled a hefty 2-billion-dollar aid package over five years for developing Asian nations to help them tackle climate change.
It includes soft loans and training programmes aimed at helping developing nations address the issue while pursuing economic growth, and is focused on improving sewage processing and fighting pollution.