Environmental experts dismissed an agreement from Asia Pacific leaders setting "aspirational" goals on climate change as an empty gesture that may actually undermine efforts to halt global warming.
Climate change topped the agenda at this weekend's Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in Sydney, its 21 members agreeing to long-term goals but failing to set binding targets in areas such as greenhouse gas emissions.
Australian Prime Minister John Howard described it as "a very important milestone" toward a future global agreement that drew in both rich and poor countries.
Activists were not impressed, talking of a political stunt to promote an agreement that lacked any teeth.
"Without legally binding targets for reduction in greenhouse gas emissions the Sydney Declaration is meaningless and irrelevant in addressing climate change," Greenpeace Southeast Asia energy campaigner Abigail Jabines said.
"It is a political stunt. Developing nations of the Asia Pacific region cannot afford to accept lip service instead of action."
Jabines accused US President George W. Bush and summit host Howard of trying to undermine the 1997 Kyoto Protocol on climate change, which both leaders have refused to ratify.
She said Bush and Howard were attempting to frame a new global agreement on climate change that did not include the binding emissions targets on developed nations included in the Kyoto deal, which is due to expire in 2012.
"If John Howard and George Bush are sincere in addressing climate change, they should ratify Kyoto Protocol and embrace real solutions," she said.
Professor Hugh Outhred, an energy specialist at the University of New South Wales, said general statements such as at Sydney allowed political leaders to appear to be addressing climate change while doing little.
"The main practical implication could be a delay in doing anything," he said. "They gain time, they are trying to do as little as possible."
The Sydney Declaration says the world has to "slow, stop and then reverse" the growth in greenhouse gas emissions.
It also encourages APEC members to reduce energy intensity by 25 percent by 2030, a goal Greenpeace said most countries would reach anyway.
Australian former diplomat Richard Broinowski dismissed Howard's suggestion that this agreement drew in rich and poor nations for the first time.
"That hasn't happened at all, Kyoto is still the main element for that," said Brionowski, Canberra's former ambassador to South Korea, Vietnam and Mexico.
"This is a sideshow. It's not a breakthrough at all."
The declaration reaffirmed the United Nations as the major forum for talks on climate change, a clause pushed by China and developing nations determined not to allow Australia and the United States to hijack the process.
While Chinese President Hu Jintao signed up to the statement, he pointedly told fully developed nations that they had to live up to targets laid out in the Kyoto Protocol.
He also reiterated support for the principle of "common but differentiated responsibilities," code for meaning that emerging countries should have less stringent emission targets than developed nations.
Julie-Anne Richards, from the Climate Action Network Australia, said that environmentalists were looking to a UN-brokered meeting in Bali in December for progress on climate change because the APEC statement meant nothing.
"The world doesn't have time for voluntary action, what we need is real action, real targets and real timetables," she said.
There was biting criticism too from the Los Angeles Times, which said the "aspirational" Sydney statement was political theatre designed to boost Howard's green credentials before the conservative leader faces an election later this year.
"For aspirational, read: voluntary, vague and useless for anything but padding a fading prime minister's environmental resume," it said in an online editorial.
Copyright © 2007 Agence France Presse