SYDNEY, Australia – The United States and Australia on Thursday pledged a combined $127 million to an Asia Pacific plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by promoting renewable energy sources and cleaner ways to use coal.
But environmentalists said the pledges were far too little, and complained that forum focused on untried technologies to prop up the fossil fuel industry.
The six nations at the inaugural Asia Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate meeting in Sydney acknowledged that burning fossil fuels — a major contributor to greenhouse gases — will remain "critical" to their economies.
The group is made up of the United States, the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases, along with Australia, the world's biggest coal exporter, and the rapidly expanding, energy hungry nations of China and India, as well as South Korea and Japan.
The energy measures favored by the United States and Australia included greater use of such renewable sources as wind and solar power, and treating coal so it gives off fewer greenhouse gases when burned or burying the gases underground.
Australian Prime Minister John Howard pledged to pump $75 million over five years into the effort, aimed at fighting global warming. But he said the partnership would not allow the need to rein in greenhouse gas emissions hamper economic growth.
"That is a choice that our societies will not make," he said. "Our societies require of us that we find solutions to these issues that maintain the momentum of economic growth."
James Connaughton, chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, said that the U.S. delegation would tell the conference that President Bush will seek $52 million in his country's 2007 budget to manage the partnership's work.
Together, the U.S. and Australian funding form "a very strong foundation to sustain the technology, trade promotion and investment that we're trying to achieve," Connaughton told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.
Canberra and Washington have often been criticized as the only major industrialized nations to refuse to sign the Kyoto Protocol, which legally binds countries to targets for cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 2012.
As emerging economies, China and India also have no mandatory Kyoto targets.
Greenpeace slammed Thursday's pledges as inadequate.
"We are deeply concerned that Australia and the USA will not only miss the opportunity to lead us towards the renewable energy economy that we need to tackle climate change, but won't even take the first simple and effective steps down that road," Greenpeace climate campaigner Catherine Fitzpatrick said in a statement.
The countries at the meeting — with 45 percent of the world's population — account for nearly half of the world's gross domestic product, energy consumption and global greenhouse gas emissions, the Australian government said.
In a communique issued at the meeting's end, the partnership stressed the ongoing importance of fossil fuels.
"Coal and gas are and will remain critical fuels for all six partner economies," the communique said.