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At Asia summit, meltdown trumps worries for climate

Global warming ranks low on agenda this year

By Joseph Coleman
Associated Press / November 21, 2008
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LIMA, Peru - Countries on both sides of the Pacific have reason to be very afraid of climate change. Rising sea levels could swamp coastal farms, higher temperatures wipe out species, and increasingly violent storms exact a widening human and financial toll.

But at this week's summit of 21 Pacific Rim nations, global warming is barely on the agenda. In its place: the financial crisis.

"The interest and focus on climate change has dissipated somewhat," said Woo Yuen Pau, CEO of the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada.

Financial issues are a natural fit for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation group, which includes the United States, China, Japan, and Russia, among others. Its annual summits traditionally focus on nuts-and-bolts issues such as spreading free trade and bolstering regional networking.

The agenda is often driven by the host nation, and in Australia last year, that meant global warming. The group's leaders in Sydney signed a nonbinding agreement to improve energy efficiency and increase forest cover.

Expectations for a followup at this year's meeting, which was officially beginning with a dinner yesterday, are rock-bottom.

The Pacific Economic Cooperation Council announced Wednesday that climate change was the summit's number seven priority, based on an annual survey of regional government officials, business people, and academics. Last year, it was number four.

Among the issues ranking above climate change this year: trade talks, food and energy security, and reforming the economic group's bureaucracy.

Top on the list, of course, was the credit crunch on Wall Street that has sent global markets plummeting. Many of the economic group's leaders attended a summit in Washington last week at which 21 major economies pledged tighter cooperation to battle the financial meltdown.

Foreign and trade ministers in Lima warned the economic group's countries yesterday that protectionist measures would only deepen the crisis. They endorsed an action plan proposed last weekend at an economic summit in Washington, which calls for increased government stimulus efforts and improved financial regulation.

Advocates of action on climate change say that despite the immediate threat of a global depression, global warming could become a much greater problem in the long run.

If it isn't dealt with now, they say, it will be far more costly down the road.

"We do not have any more time to defer the transformation of the way we do business," said Rick Duke of the Natural Resources Defense Council in New York.

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