The Australia hosted APEC summit in Sydney has come to an end with 21 world leaders agreeing to “aspirational targets” for cutting down greenhouse gases, and this non-binding agreement is called the “Sydney Declaration”.
Even though condemned by some as lacking any strict targets I think the declaration is meaningful. Considering the scale of change required it is not easy to convince 21 countries to do anything, especially international co-operation on uncertain effects 75 years into the future.
The declaration has the following actions:
In summary, and without prejudice to commitments in other fora, we have decided to:
• highlight the importance of improving energy efficiency by working towards achieving an APEC-wide regional aspirational goal of a reduction in energy intensity of at least 25 per cent by 2030 (with 2005 as the base year);
• work to achieve an APEC-wide aspirational goal of increasing forest cover in the region by at least 20 million hectares of all types of forests by 2020 – a goal which if achieved would store approximately 1.4 billion tonnes of carbon, equivalent to around 11 per cent of annual global emissions (in 2004);
• establish an Asia-Pacific Network for Energy Technology (APNet) to strengthen collaboration on energy research in our region particularly in areas such as clean fossil energy and renewable energy sources;
• establish an Asia-Pacific Network for Sustainable Forest Management and Rehabilitation to enhance capacity building and strengthen information sharing in the forestry sector; and
• further measures in trade in environmental goods and services, aviation transport, alternative and low carbon energy uses, energy security, the protection of marine biological resources, policy analysis capabilities and a co-benefit approach.
It has for the first time made possible for China and the US to agree to some targets and importantly, to work under the current United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC); thus not creating another rival framework. (Incidentally, China played a major role in this)
John Howard’s experience in the last decade in managing Australia’s greenhouse gases through agri-management has provided the impetus for forest cover targets. In fact, the Stern review has suggested that forestry management (afforestation and reducing deforestation) is a good way to tackle climate change. Considering the costs of changing current economic systems, in the short term this is a valid strategy.
The effort on improving energy intensity is a good one. Even though this may not ultimately reduce actual consumption it will improve the efficiency of all countries involved. The importance of trade of economic and social development is well known. These principles are being supported in the declaration.
This declaration is also a good step forward because it acknowledges that “differences in economic and social conditions among economies” and that this would mean “differentiated responsibilities”. Also the emphasis on adaptation is important. As Schelling has suggested,
The sooner Malaysia can become like Singapore, the sooner it can worry less about the impact of climate change on health, comfort, and productivity.
In that sense, trade and economic development is the key to adaptation for climate change.
More importantly, Schelling talks about inputs and outputs.
One striking contrast between NATO and the Kyoto Protocol deserves emphasis: the difference between “inputs” and “outputs,” or actions and results. NATO nations argued about what they should do, and commitments were made to actions. What countries actually did — raise and train troops; procure equipment, ammunition, and supplies; and deploy these assets geographically — could be observed, estimated, and compared. But results — such as how much each NATO nation’s actions contributed to deterring the Warsaw Pact — could not be remotely approximated.
The Sydney declaration takes a small step towards “inputs” — energy intensity, forest cover, trade barriers, clean technology — and this makes it a valid strategy as it is not possible to guarantee the exact emission reduction (outputs) in 10-15 years.
Overall, I think that the Sydney declaration is a good step forward in tackling climate change.