SINGAPORE - With little prospect of any new climate change initiatives emerging at an APEC meeting in Singapore this weekend, the climate agenda might instead focus on liberalizing trade in green goods and services.
Keeping the fragile global economic recovery on track will dominate the talks at the 21-member Pacific rim group meeting, but climate change is also expected to feature prominently with just weeks to go before a major U.N. climate gathering.
Analysts, however, say the leaders will offer no major initiatives to give the Copenhagen talks a much needed push.
The United Nations wants the December 7-18 Copenhagen meeting to yield a broader, and tougher, legally binding agreement by all nations to fight climate change but negotiations have largely stalled, dimming hopes of success.
The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum gathering represents one of the final opportunities ahead of Copenhagen for world leaders to try to overcome differences on the shape of a broader climate pact to fight rising seas, more chaotic weather and threats to crops and livelihoods.
APEC, which ranges from economic giants the United States, Japan and China to oil-rich Brunei, accounts for more than 40 percent of world trade and over 60 percent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions.
I wouldn't really expect major progress. I think it's going to be overwhelmed by trade, financing, said Changhua Wu, Greater China Director for think tank The Climate Group.
She pointed to the depressing mood that had settled over the Copenhagen talks process and the huge range of unresolved issues.
I think we could see greater emphasis on macroeconomic stability in general this year, said Leong Wai Ho, senior regional economist at Barclays Capital in Singapore.
But he pointed to the region being prone to costly climate disasters such as typhoons and storm surges and the predicted greater intensity of such disasters as the planet warms.
Recent storms in Taiwan, Vietnam and the Philippines have killed hundreds, destroyed roads, bridges, farms and homes, lowered farm output and pushed up food prices.
This link suggests that, despite the distraction from the global economic crisis, APEC leaders are widely expected to call for further cuts in energy consumption amongst themselves at the Singapore meeting, Leong told Reuters.
Wu and other analysts said APEC might try to boost regional trade in clean-energy products and services.
Our argument would be if you want to push the economy into gear again a very good way to do that would be through green investments because they normally imply a lot of jobs, said Kim Carstensen, the head of conservation group WWF's global climate initiative.
China, South Korea and Japan have large spending plans to boost the clean-energy sector and are keen to boost global market share. The United States is also pushing for greater market access for its green goods.
KEEPING FACTORIES HUMMING
In a draft leaders' declaration obtained by Reuters, APEC backs limiting the global average temperature increase to within 2 degrees Celsius and for emissions to peak within the next few years and then fall by 50 percent from 1990 levels by 2050.
The timeframe for the emissions peak would be longer in developing countries, the draft says. It reinforces an earlier goal of reducing energy intensity by at least 25 percent by 2030 and to try to boost trade in green goods and services.
Given the fragility of the global recovery and concerns over rising unemployment in the United States, bread-and-butter issues will dominate leaders' discussions, said Song Seng Wun, senior economist at CIMB brokerage in Singapore.
First things first is to get the factories humming again and Americans start spending again with their own money, he said.
The leaders' final declaration needed to point to goals and benchmarks for success at Copenhagen, said Carstensen.
I would look to them to produce some signals of ambition, referring to Copenhagen, referring to Copenhagen as a place where results need to be achieved, he said.
A key climate benchmark for APEC would be the final text retaining the goal to cut emissions by half by 2050.
Normally it doesn't survive in these kinds of circumstances, Carstensen said, referring to past objections from China and other big developing nations on adopting a 2050 emissions target unless rich nations adopt a 2020 target as well. The draft doesn't mention a 2020 target.
Some analysts also pointed to the growing threat of protectionism and U.S. and French references to slapping so-called carbon tariffs on goods from big developing nations.
Rather than looking for positive ways to win-win, we are turning to win-lose, said Simon Tay, Schwartz Fellow of the U.S.-based Asia Society.
(Additional reporting by Nopporn Wong-Anan; Editing by Jeremy Laurence)