AN AMERICAN-led plan to rely on new technologies to tackle global warming was launched yesterday amid claims it is a "Machiavellian pact" to undermine the Kyoto agreement on climate change.
The partnership deal with five other countries, Australia, China, India, South Korea and Japan, focuses on the promotion of replacements for fossil fuels, such as clean coal, nuclear, wind and solar power, but sets no targets for the reduction of emissions.
The UK government welcomed the move and some environmentalists said the Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate was a step in the right direction.
However others said it would not result in a significant reduction in emissions and would detract from the emission reduction targets in the Kyoto agreement, which the US and Australia have refused to sign.
The White House insisted the partnership was not meant to be an alternative climate change deal, but John Howard, the Australian prime minister, invited comparisons by saying the agreement was "superior to the Kyoto Protocol".
Robert Zoellick, the US deputy Secretary of State, said: "We are not detracting from Kyoto in any way at all. Our goal is to complement other treaties with practical solutions to problems."
The six countries, which account for nearly half the world's greenhouse emissions, said the pact would "seek to address energy, climate change and air pollution issues within a paradigm of economic development".
A fact sheet issued by the White House said the countries "will focus on voluntary practical measures ... to create new investment opportunities, build local capacity, and remove barriers to the introduction of clean, more efficient technologies. This partnership will help each country meet nationally designed strategies for improving energy security, reducing pollution, and addressing the long-term challenge of climate change."
It added that ending extreme poverty would help the environment.
The US and Australia are the only developed nations outside the Kyoto agreement, which demands cuts in greenhouse emissions to 5.2 per cent below 1990 levels by 2008-12.
Elliot Morley, the UK environment minister, gave the initiative a cautious welcome. He said: "The fact that people are working together, which is very much in line with the agreement at Gleneagles [the recent G8 summit] in relation to the action plan on sharing technologies and looking at issues like carbon capture, I think that is a welcome step forward."
The British government's chief scientist, Sir David King, said it was important to focus on technological change, but he stressed that a cap on individual countries' emissions was required to make meaningful progress.
Catherine Pearce, an international climate campaigner with Friends of the Earth said: "It looks suspiciously as though this deal will mean business as usual for the United States. This is yet another attempt by the US and Australian administrations to undermine the efforts of the 140 countries who have signed the Kyoto Protocol."
Clive Hamilton, the director of the Australia Institute Research Centre, said: "The main beneficiaries will be Australian coal companies, some of the world's biggest greenhouse polluters. It's a Machiavellian pact."