'Polluters' Summit: 'Industry will solve problem of global warming'

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The US, China and four of the other largest-polluting countries yesterday opened a "counter-Kyoto" conference by declaring that voluntarily adopted technological advances could solve the problem of climate change. After the first day of the Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate, the US Energy Secretary, Samuel Bodman, said that even without financial incentives, coal, gas and energy companies were capable of reducing harmful emissions.

"The people who run these companies - they do have children, they do have grandchildren; they do live and breathe in the world," Mr Bodman said at the meeting in Sydney.

But his assertions were challenged by environmentalists, who see the gathering as merely a fig leaf and a gimmick. The main purpose, the green lobby claims, is to divert attention from the refusal of the US and Australia to sign up to the Kyoto Protocol.

"The conference will fail unless it puts into place regulations and strong financial incentives for the industry to spend billions and billions of dollars on clean energy today," the Australian Conservation Foundation said.

Environmental groups insist the partnership should not focus on futuristic and untested technologies for the fossil-fuel sector - above all the coal industry - but instead direct resources to renewable and non-polluting sources, such as wind, solar and geothermal energy.

At last month's Kyoto talks in Montreal, the US was no less intransigent, committing itself in only the vaguest terms to further talks. Together the six Asia-Pacific partners - the US, China, India, Australia, Japan and South Korea - account for roughly half of the global economy.

In principle, the Asia-Pacific pact covers all "clean" energy technologies. In practice however, the focus is on coal. Mark O'Neill, head of the Australian Coal Association, said: "With global energy demand growing at a rapid rate, that demand can't be met without coal." But Mr Bodman did also stress the role of nuclear power. In the US no new nuclear station had been built for three decades, he noted. "Hopefully we can take care of business at home before we start preaching to others."