Officials from the United States, China, India, Japan, South Korea and Australia are meeting with executives from major mining and energy companies including Exxon Mobil, Rio Tinto and Peabody Energy following the launch of a six-nation climate pact.

The US and Australia are the only rich nations to reject the UN's Kyoto Protocol meant to limit global warming, but are seeking to promote technology like "clean coal" or ways to bury heat-trapping gases.

The gathering has attracted criticism. A group of around 80 protesters demonstrated outside the hotel in Sydney where the two-day conference was taking place. A load of coal was dumped on an effigy of the host and the prime minister of Australia, John Howard.

Condoleeza Rice was due to attend but had to withdraw following Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon's illness.

Nuclear option

While the Kyoto protocol commits developed countries to reducing their emissions of greenhouse gases produced from burning fossil fuels such as oil and coal, the new partnership – dubbed AP6 - has ruled out setting any enforceable targets.

Before the conference, the American Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman said: "The world community must seriously consider using nuclear power if it is to make any serious inroads into greenhouse gas emissions".

"A problem of this size is not going to be solved by a small amount of money and cheerleading"

David Doniger, climate expert

World demand for electricity was set to increase by 50% over the next 20 years and there were obvious problems in using only fossil fuels to meet the need, he said.

Some supporters of Kyoto reckon George Bush, via the Asia Pacific Partnership for Clean Development and Climate, is trusting too much in, as yet undiscovered, clean technology breakthroughs that might never come or even be sufficient if they do.

Private initiative

Bodman laid the responsibility for reducing greenhouse gases squarely at the door of the private sector, while saying governments should work to make their task as easy as possible.

He said: "It's the private sector, the companies that own the assets, that make the potential allocations (towards reducing greenhouse gases) that are ultimately going to be the solvers of the problem."

The conference is expected to press the private sector to find billions of dollars to finance programmes to reduce pollution.

However, many experts doubt that companies will not invest enough in new clean energy technology unless they get a carrot-and-stick approach to help stave off what could be disastrous climate changes ranging from desertification to rising sea levels.

Bodman said it was not up to governments to coerce industry and he believed top executives would act voluntarily.

New technology hopes

"The people who run the private sector, who run these companies - they too have children, they too have grandchildren, they too live and breathe in the world and they would like things dealt with effectively and that's what this is all about," he said.

Australia's minister for industry, Ian MacFarlane, said that if all countries adopted "clean" fossil fuel burning technology then greenhouse gas emissions would be reduced by three times the level that would be achieved under the Kyoto Protocol.

Critics say there are problems
with only using fossil fuels

The US accounts for 25%  of carbon emissions while Australians produce more carbon dioxide per person than any other country, but they say the Kyoto pact is unfair as it does not commit developing nations to reducing emissions.

Critics of the conference say it will be nothing more than a talk shop for some of the biggest producers and consumers of fossil fuels.

David Doniger, climate negotiator under Bill Clinton said: "The new partnership has no real drivers. A problem of this size is not going to be solved by a small amount of money and cheerleading."