The Kyoto Protocol, which came into effect this year, is far from enough to combat global warming. But it would have been a more convincing start if the world's biggest greenhouse gas polluter - the United States - and one of its biggest coal exporters - Australia - had not refused to ratify it. Now they have gone their own way as members of a new Asia-Pacific partnership that aims to develop cleaner energy technologies. But there is still no requirement to cut greenhouse emissions. The immediate fear of environmentalists is that this could undermine the 140-nation Kyoto accord, which does set binding targets for cuts in emissions. It is, therefore, to be hoped that the new six-nation group will confound that fear by living up to the billing of its initiative as complementary to the Kyoto accord. Such a claim will be found to be hollow if the pact does not lead to voluntary cuts in emissions. Good intentions will be tested by self-interest - the reason the US and Australia refused to go all the way with Kyoto in the first place. That said, the Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate does have the potential to make a difference. It includes China and India - developing countries not bound by the Kyoto targets - where economic growth and booming car ownership pose big greenhouse threats. The pact's other members, Japan and South Korea, are also big polluters who bring formidable technological credentials to the partnership's mission. Kyoto's main mechanism for reducing emissions is putting a price on greenhouse pollution. Developed countries are committed to bringing emissions down to about 5 per cent below 1990 levels by 2012. The European Union's target is 8 per cent. Dirty industries in signatory countries come under pressure to clean up. Countries not meeting set targets can buy credits from others that generate less pollution. If the price of emissions credits makes polluting expensive, and there is parallel investment in bringing down the cost of cleaner alternatives, there would be an incentive to switch. That is the theory, and that is where the new partnership could truly complement Kyoto if it can set the pace in developing cleaner technologies. Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer makes some sense when he says: 'The key is making [cleaner] technologies more economic.' The new pact puts the US in an environmental partnership with China, the world's second-biggest emissions polluter, and India. The exemption of both nations from the Kyoto targets was one reason the US cited for opting out. There is now scientific consensus that global temperatures are rising. There are some alarming forecasts for the next 100 years. Global warming has become the prime suspect for the increasing frequency of extreme weather conditions including heatwaves and hurricanes. But the jury is still out. The link remains a matter of dispute. One school of thought is that we are merely seeing cyclical changes in weather conditions that take place over long periods of time. The lack of comparable data going far enough back in history makes it more difficult to reach a conclusion. But there remains a need for greenhouse gas emissions to be cut, energy to be conserved and renewable sources of power to be developed. This will prevent further degradation of the environment and bring about more sustainable development. For Hong Kong, the impact of the Kyoto treaty is minimal. It is regarded as part of China and is therefore not required to make any emissions cuts. But as a highly developed city, Hong Kong should be continually striving to make cuts voluntarily. Details of the new pact have, so far, been expressed in broad terms. In time, it will be easier to assess the contribution it can make to curbing greenhouse gas emissions. It is to be hoped that it will - as promised - complement rather than bypass the Kyoto Protocol.