Kerry opens new front on the issue of climate

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JAKARTA, Indonesia -- Secretary of State John Kerry, calling climate change perhaps the world's most fearsome weapon of mass destruction, urged developing nations on Sunday to do more to cut greenhouse-gas emissions as he derided climate-change skeptics at home and blamed big companies for hijacking the debate.

Mr. Kerry painted a picture of looming drought and famine, massive floods and deadly storms as a result of global warming, and he urged ordinary citizens in developing nations to speak out on the issue and demand more from their political leaders. He labeled those who denied the evidence of climate change as "shoddy scientists and extreme ideologues."

He was addressing a group of students and government officials at an American cultural center in the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, in a country and region that he said were "on the front lines of climate change" and some of the most vulnerable to the effects of global warming. "It's not an exaggeration to say that the entire way of life here is at risk," he said.

Global efforts to counter climate change have long foundered on a sharp divide between developed and developing nations. Although developing nations now account for more than half of greenhouse-gas emissions, they have been reluctant to commit to meaningful cuts as they seek a path to Western industrialization and prosperity. They argue that the West caused the problem and should fix it.

But Mr. Kerry, who has spent much of his long political career calling for more action on the issue, said every country needed to play a role in cleaner energy or the world would face a calamitous future, calling climate change "perhaps the world's most fearsome weapon of mass destruction."

"It's absolutely true that industrialized countries have to play a leading role in reducing emissions, but that doesn't mean other nations have the right to repeat the mistakes of the past. It's not enough for one country or even a few countries to reduce emissions when other countries continue to fill the atmosphere with carbon pollution as they see fit," he said.

"If even one or two major economies neglects to respond to this threat, it will counteract all of the good work that the rest of the world does."

China and the United States are the world's largest sources of greenhouse-gas emissions, accounting for about 40 percent. Indonesia, a country of around 240 million people, is in the top 10 sources of carbon emissions globally, largely as a result of deforestation, and is also a major coal exporter. But like many developing nations, Indonesia, an archipelago of some 17,000 islands, has a lot to lose from global warming.

Mr. Kerry said scientists predicted that melting ice caps could push sea levels up by more than 3 feet by the end of the century, putting half of Jakarta underwater and displacing hundreds of millions of people worldwide.

Changes in ocean temperatures and acidification of the seas could also reduce fish catches in Indonesia by as much as 40 percent, he said, while typhoons such as the one that struck the Philippines last year could become the norm and "wipe out entire communities."

There was still time to act to address the problem, but the window was closing, Mr. Kerry said. The problem was not finding a scientific solution, but a lack of political resolve.

Mr. Kerry spent a considerable portion of his speech spelling out the scientific consensus behind climate change, which he said was almost as conclusive as the gravity that caused an apple to fall from a tree or the laws of thermodynamics that meant your hand would burn when touching a hot stove. Ninety-seven percent of the world's scientists agree that the climate was heating fast up as a result of human activity, he said, and the world needed to act.

But the Obama administration's credibility, as well as Mr. Kerry's own personal credibility, on the issue of climate change faces a severe test in coming months, as they have to decide whether to give the go-ahead to a $5.4 billion Keystone XL oil pipeline to bring Canadian crude oil to U.S. refineries.


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