The 21 APEC leaders are convening to focus on solutions to major global problems. At present, there is nothing more important than managing our transition to a sustainable global society and the impact of peak oil; without it, discussions on trade and security are meaningless.

It is a great honour for Australia to host APEC. However, in the current critical circumstances, we are entitled to expect that APEC devotes itself exclusively to the task of producing substantial initiatives, and dispenses with the floss and photo opportunities. Paul Keating was right to issue the following warning yesterday:

What you lose is the opportunity of getting things done, and I think Howard will probably fluff [APEC]. I think the opportunity will come and go and we’ll have a kind of little incrementalism and that will be it.

President Bush and Prime Minister Howard, between them, have done more to subvert serious action on climate change, and to endanger energy security, than anyone else on the planet. The Prime Minister rightly emphasises that any realistic climate change solution must involve the developing world, but there is no vision or initiative to make this happen.

In fact, Australia is being accused of hypocrisy by Malaysia, with Foreign Minister Downer and his Malaysian counterpart sparring over the courage, or lack thereof, of Australia’s current climate change policy. The view elsewhere in the region is that Australia’s words remain louder than its actions.

The issue is simple. The average American and Australian generates around seven times more carbon emissions per annum than the average Chinese, and four times more than the global average. The figures for the average European are three and 1.7 times respectively. It is morally indefensible and unrealistic to expect that the developed world can continue to emit at these levels, with the developing world absorbing the bulk of the climatic impact and being asked to constrain its own growth.

The simplest, most equitable and practical solution to resolve this conundrum is for each nation to agree to converge from today’s unequal per capita carbon emissions, to equal per capita emissions globally by a date to be agreed, say 2040. To stay below the dangerous climate change threshold, of 450ppm CO2e atmospheric carbon concentration, will then require the following changes relative to today’s total emission levels:

Year

2025

2050

Global

-15%

-55%

Australia & USA

-52%

-90%

Europe

-44%

-82%

China

+4%

-38%

India

+74%

+28%

Per capita carbon allocation is not a new idea, having been raised by the developing countries in initial climate change negotiations in the early-1990’s, but dismissed at that time by the developed world. However it is where we must end up if we are to avoid catastrophic climatic impact, and the conflict that would inevitably follow; better get on with it now.

At APEC, world leaders have a unique opportunity to make amends with real leadership, by ensuring the final communiqué signals the end of “business-as-usual”, with binding commitments to come to grips with these problems. A unique opportunity, but will APEC leaders take it?

For a longer version of this article, click here.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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