Some of the world's worst polluting nations have launched a controversial conference with international business chiefs here to seek high-tech solutions to global warming.
Ministers from the United States, China, India, Japan, South Korea and Australia were meeting with executives from major mining and energy companies including Exxon Mobil, Rio Tinto and Peabody Energy.
A group of around 80 protesters demonstrated outside the hotel in downtown Sydney where the two-day conference was taking place, dumping a load of coal on an effigy of the host, Australian Prime Minister John Howard.
Police forming part of a tight security operation for the six-nation talks looked on as the environmental activists chanted, "Exxon Mobil, BP, Shell, take your oil and go to hell."
A demonstrator shovels coal, Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2006, onto a paper-made likeness of Australia's Prime Minister John Howard accross the street in Sydney from the main venue for the inaugural two-day meeting of the Asia Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate. Six the world's largest polluters are gathering to discuss ways of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, debate over burning coal looked set to dominate proceedings. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)
The talks are controversial partly because two of the major players in the new Asia-Pacific Clean Development and Climate Partnership, the United States and Australia, have refused to ratify the UN Kyoto Protocol on global warming.
While the protocol commits developed countries to reducing their emissions of greenhouse gases produced from burning fossil fuels such as oil and coal, the new partnership -- known as AP6 -- has ruled out setting any enforceable targets.
US Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman told reporters ahead of the conference that the "world community must seriously consider using nuclear power if it is to make any serious inroads into greenhouse gas emissions".
World demand for electricity was set to increase by 50 percent over the next 20 years and there were obvious problems in using only fossil fuels to meet the need, he said.
"Nuclear power, it seems to me, is an obvious requirement" for the future, Bodman said.
"We're even getting in our country support from the environmental community, whose members are now much more supportive of our efforts to rejuvenate the nuclear industry."
The US energy secretary laid the responsibility for reducing greenhouse gases firmly on the private sector, while saying governments should work to make their task as easy as possible.
"It's the private sector, the companies that own the assets, that make the potential allocations (towards reducing greenhouse gases) that are ultimately going to be the solvers of the problem," he said.
The conference is expected to press the private sector to find billions of dollars to finance programmes to reduce pollution.
Bodman said it was not up to governments to coerce industry and he believed top executives would act voluntarily.
"The people who run the private sector, who run these companies -- they too have children, they too have grandchildren, they too live and breathe in the world and they would like things dealt with effectively and that's what this is all about," he said.
Australia's Industry and Resources Minister Ian MacFarlane said that if all countries adopted "clean" fossil fuel burning technology then greenhouse gas emissions would be reduced by three times the level that would be achieved under the Kyoto Protocol.
The US accounts for 25 percent of carbon emissions while Australians produce more carbon dioxide per person than any other country, but they say the Kyoto pact is unfair as it does not commit developing nations to reducing emissions.
Critics of the conference, including Australia's opposition Labor Party, say it will be nothing more than a talk shop for some of the biggest producers and consumers of fossil fuels.
"The national government of Australia and the US are actually trying to get around the Kyoto Protocol," said Bob Debus, the state environment minister in Labor-controlled New South Wales.
"They have called this conference today as something of a smokescreen to avoid making a commitment."
Copyright © 2006 AFP