Despite the media fanfare, the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, held in Sydney on September 8 and 9, achieved next to nothing in combating global warming.
The key outcome was the adoption of the "Sydney Declaration" — which amounts to little more than a vague statement of aspirational goals, labelled by Greenpeace as the "Sydney Distraction". The declaration sets no overall target for cutting greenhouse gas emissions, which could have established a positive framework for the APEC countries to engage in the latest round of Kyoto Protocol negotiations scheduled for December in Bali.
Instead, the main goal of the declaration is to reduce "energy intensity" in APEC countries by 25% by 2030. According to a September 10 Greenpeace statement, most APEC countries are likely to achieve this level of energy efficiency anyway, and this will not stop emissions rising because energy demand is projected to massively increase.
Another key goal is to combat illegal logging in Third World countries and to increase forest coverage in the region by 20 million hectares by 2020. Australia has already pledged $10 million to Indonesia for this purpose, and during the summit another agreement was signed between Indonesia and Australia worth $100 million to preserve 70,000 hectares of forest and plant up to 100 million trees in the Indonesian-controlled areas of Borneo.
However the achievement of these goals will be undermined by the failure of Australia and other APEC countries to place a ban on the importation of illegal timber, of which about $400 million worth enters into the Australian market each year.
Furthermore, the summit agreed on furthering research into biofuels, one of the leading causes of deforestation in Indonesia and other poor APEC countries where forests and food crops are being replaced by large biofuel crop plantations such as palm oil.
The US in particular is aggressively pursuing a policy of encouraging poor nations to increase their production of biofuel crops in order to decrease its reliance upon fossil fuels, regardless of the impact on forests and food production.
The Sydney Declaration reaffirms that "Fossil fuels will continue to play a major role in our regional and global energy needs" and supports the ongoing use of nuclear power.
However PM John Howard's ambitions of using the APEC summit and the Sydney Declaration to help scuttle the next round of Kyoto negotiations suffered a set-back after Chinese President Hu Jintao refused to accept the inclusion of an Australian-pushed clause referring to a "post-Kyoto framework".
The September 10 Sydney Morning Herald reported that Jintao told Howard the UN Framework on Climate Change and the Kyoto Protocol were "the most authoritative, universal and comprehensive international framework" for combating climate change. "Developed countries should face their historical responsibility and their high per-capita emissions", he said, and "strictly abide by their emission reduction targets set forth in the Kyoto Protocol".
Yet US President George Bush is still pushing ahead with a "big polluters" meeting in Washington this month, in a bid to create a bloc of countries opposed to, or at least sceptical of, Kyoto's mandatory emission reduction targets in the lead-up to the Bali talks.
On September 5, Washington welcomed Australia's bid to sign up to the US-led Global Nuclear Energy Partnership. The same day, the Wilderness Society (TWS) warned that "By signing us up to GNEP John Howard is taking the first step towards the imposition of an international nuclear waste dump in Australia".
The TWS statement noted that "The entire purpose of GNEP is for countries to take back nuclear waste ... The United States desperately needs somewhere to put their nuclear waste after public opposition stopped their proposed dump at Yucca Mountain. The Australian Government has already rushed through legislation that for the first time allows Australia to import radioactive waste from overseas."
As Howard and Bush continue to push for delayed and weak action on climate change, promoting false solutions such as nuclear power, "clean coal" and biofuels, the world is inching ever closer to climate catastrophe.
A new report by the International Institute of Strategic Studies predicts that the global security effects of catastrophic climate change could be akin to that of a nuclear war, as new and exacerbated problems such as freak weather events, large-scale crop failures and dwindling water resources increase conflicts both between and within countries, intensifying inequality and racism and potentially causing more "failed states".
The report notes: "Fundamental environmental issues of food, water and energy security ultimately lie behind many present security concerns, and climate change will magnify all three." The report predicts that by 2100, 65 countries could lose more than 15% of their agricultural output.