The United States and Australia have been working in secret for 12 months on an alternative to the Kyoto protocol and will reveal today a joint pact with China, India and South Korea to cut greenhouse gas emissions. The deal, which will be formally announced by the US deputy secretary of state Robert Zoellick in Laos today when the five "partners" hold a press conference, comes a month after Tony Blair struggled at the G8 summit to get George Bush to commit to any action on climate change.
Details of the agreement are not yet public but it is clear it is designed to give US and Australian companies selling renewable energy and carbon dioxide-cutting technologies access to markets in Asia. It is thought the pact does not include any targets and timetables for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, which the rest of the developed world has signed up to under Kyoto. The US, Australia and China are big coal exporters and are anxious to develop and export clean coal technologies.
The existence of the pact, and the fact it was designed as an alternative to Kyoto, were disclosed by Australia’s environment minister, Senator Ian Campbell. He said: "It is quite clear that the Kyoto protocol won’t get the world to where it wants to go. We have got to find something that works better. We need to develop technologies which can be developed in Australia and exported around the world - but it also shows that what we’re doing now, under the Kyoto protocol, is entirely ineffective. Anyone who tells you that the Kyoto protocol, or signing the Kyoto protocol is the answer, doesn’t understand the question."
Kyoto would fail because "it engages very few countries, most of the countries in it will not reach their targets, and it ignores the big looming problem - that’s the rapidly developing countries". He disclosed that the US and Australia had been working on the deal for 12 months.
The British government statement said: "We welcome any action taken by governments to reduce greenhouse gases ... The announcement from Australia and others certainly does not replace the Kyoto process. "Kyoto represents a historic first step in world cooperation but needs to be built on post 2012 - that process continues in Montreal later this year. We made excellent progress on climate change at Gleneagles.
"The G8 leaders, including President Bush, signed up to a plan of action to reduce emissions. In addition ... China, Brazil, Mexico, South Africa and India, were brought into the debate on energy needs, development and climate change, on equal terms."
The trade agreements in the Kyoto protocol allowed developed countries, and companies in them, to export clean technologies to developing countries and make money by claiming carbon credits. These credits are the notional tonnes of carbon saved by using low-carbon technologies and renewables to generate electricity rather than dirty coal or other fossil fuel plants. These deals are not open to the US and Australia because they repudiated the treaty.
Environment groups across the world yesterday expressed doubts that the US was doing any more than safeguarding its own trade in technology.
Tony Juniper, director of Friends of the Earth said that only a legally binding treaty which set targets and timetables to reduce greenhouse gas emissions would achieve the 60 per cent reductions which scientists said were required to save the planet from climate change. "I fear this is another attempt to undermine Kyoto and a message to the developing world to buy US technology and not to worry about targets and timetables."
US environmental groups agreed and pointed to an energy bill expected to move through Congress this week which includes $8.5bn in tax incentives and billions of dollars more in loan guarantees and other subsidies for the electricity, coal, nuclear, natural gas and oil industries. The White House said that President Bush intended to sign the bill.