[PHOTO AT LEFT - President Arroyo beams as she chats with US President George W. Bush at the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit in Sydney, Australia yesterday. Photo by AFP]

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA, SEPTEMBER 10, 2007 (STAR) Pacific Rim leaders agreed yesterday that the world needs to “slow, stop and then reverse” greenhouse gas emissions, and adopted goals on reducing energy intensity and reforestation as part of the effort.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard, as host of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit, announced the Sydney Declaration of Climate Change, Energy Security and Clean Development, which he said reflected the seriousness of the body’s desire to address global warming while providing for economic growth.

APEC’s 21 leaders agreed to reduce “energy intensity” – the amount of energy needed to produce a unit of economic growth – by 25 percent by 2030. Its inclusion was a nod to Australia, backed by the United States, which wanted developed and developing nations to commit to a target.

The declaration also calls for increasing forest cover in the region by at least 20 million hectares by 2020. Forests help absorb the greenhouse gases that cause global warming.

The goals are non-binding in keeping with APEC’s voluntary, consensus-based approach.

The statement also affirmed that climate change negotiations should take place under United Nations’ auspices – a key demand of developing nations.

Overall, the declaration calls for laying the groundwork for a new climate change agreement to replace the UN-backed Kyoto Protocol when it expires in 2012.

The leaders expressed strong support for a December UN meeting in Bali, Indonesia, to begin discussions on a successor to Kyoto, as well as a gathering of major emitters in the US later this month to be hosted by US President George W. Bush.

The statement recognizes “common but differentiated responsibilities” in combating climate change. The phrase means richer nations will have to bear more of the financial and other costs in cutting the carbon emissions that contribute to global warming.

APEC’s 21 members, which include major polluters the United States, China, Russia and Japan, together account for 60 percent of global energy demand and pump out about the same share of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

Hodgepodge of issues

The leaders of Asia-Pacific nations representing nearly half the world’s trade met under the giant shells of Sydney’s iconic Opera House amid the tightest security cloak in Australian history.

The 21 leaders signed the climate declaration as thousands of protesters – some kitted out as kangaroos and polar bears – took to the streets beating drums and blowing whistles in a colorful rally closely guarded by police.

Demonstrators turned out with a hodgepodge of issues, from the Iraq war to gay rights and global warming.

A large banner carried by one group read: “War criminals not welcome here – Bush go home.” “Justice Not Destruction” one placard read; and another: “End the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

A dozen blocks away – on the other side of a three-meter metal fence fortified by concrete barriers and a police cordon – about 3,000 protesters held a colorful and mostly peaceful march and rally, demonstrating against Bush.

One protester came dressed as a polar bear, and one wore a T-shirt with the slogan “Climate change is not cool” while others banged drums. Kerry Nettle, a senator from the Australian Greens party, demanded that the Pacific Rim leaders take “real action” on global warming, drawing cheers from the crowd.

Protesters marched along a route approved by police, who were out in force, and finished with a rally at a park.

Police, who had earlier warned the march could erupt into violence, said three protesters had been arrested and two officers injured, although it was unclear why.

At the Opera House, choppers buzzed overhead and security forces patrolled the land and harbor waters as host Prime Minister John Howard greeted leaders arriving ahead of the official start of the Pacific Rim summit.

“I do very warmly welcome you to Sydney,” he told them. “I trust you have a very enjoyable stay in this city of ours.”

For weeks, officials expressed concern that yesterday’s demonstration could degenerate into a full-scale riot after violent street protests marred a meeting last year in Melbourne for finance ministers and central bankers from the Group of 20 leading economies. - AP, AFP

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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