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SYDNEY (Reuters) - An Asia-Pacific climate change agreement was a milestone because it marked the first time the world's biggest polluters had pledged to cut greenhouse gas emissions, Australia's Prime Minister said on Sunday.
"This is the first such agreement involving the major polluters -- the United States, China and the Russian Federation," John Howard told a news conference following the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit.
"And (it) is therefore a very important component, along the hard march of mankind towards reaching a sensible, workable, international agreement to cover the period post-Kyoto, that is 2012 onwards," he said.
Pacific Rim leaders, including U.S. President George W. Bush, China's President Hu Jintao and Russia's Vladimir Putin adopted a "Sydney Declaration" on climate change that calls on members to commit to a voluntary, non-binding global target to cut emissions.
Proponents say the declaration creates consensus on the thorny climate change issue and will carry momentum into a series of meetings in Washington, New York and Bali about replacing the Kyoto Protocol, due to expire in 2012.
But green critics ridiculed the idea of voluntary targets and some developing countries in APEC thought the Sydney Declaration was a diversion from U.N. efforts to hammer out a post-Kyoto global agreement.
Howard insisted, however, it was part of the process.
"It was unrealistic to expect that out of this meeting we would have a commitment to binding targets," Howard said.
"No one meeting, no one agreement is going to fix this issue, Kyoto didn't fix it," he added.
"What this agreement represents is a proper recognition of the fact that different economies have different needs, have different views and have different capacities.
"Everybody has to be involved but not everybody will make the same contribution," Howard said.