Jakarta (AFP) – US Secretary of State John Kerry Sunday issued a clarion call for nations to do to more to combat climate change, calling it “the world’s largest weapon of mass destruction”.
In a keynote speech, one of a series planned in different countries throughout the year, Kerry sought to make both a moral and economic argument for greater urgency in cutting greenhouse gases.
He warned that low-lying Asian nations and their rich ecosystems were particularly at peril from rising sea levels.
Talking to a crowd of Indonesian agriculture, energy and marine students, he said the country and Southeast Asia were “on the frontlines of climate change”.
“It’s not an exaggeration to say to you that the entire way of life that you live and love is at risk,” Kerry said at a US-run cultural centre in Jakarta, in a speech also fed live to hubs on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra.
He compared global warming to other threats such as terrorism or nuclear proliferation, in which countries must work together to make things safer, with the key being an informed energy policy.
US Secretary of State John Kerry (C) sits with a group of students as he is introduced to deliver a speech on climate change in Jakarta on February 16, 2014
© Pool/AFP Evan Vucci
“We all have to approach this challenge together,” he insisted, adding that “in a sense climate change can now be considered another weapon of mass destruction, perhaps even the world’s most fearsome weapon”.
But while industrialized countries bore a huge responsibility, that didn’t mean other nations “get a free pass,” Kerry said.
“They don’t have a right to go out and repeat the mistakes of the past,” he argued.
“At the end of the day, emissions coming from anywhere in the world, threaten the future of everyone in the world,” he said.
Kerry, long a passionate advocate of the need to protect the environment, arrived in Indonesia late Saturday for bilateral meetings as part of an Asian tour, which has also taken him to South Korea and China.
But State Department officials revealed Sunday that a planned meeting with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono had been cancelled because the president was occupied coordinating efforts after the eruption of the volcano, Mount Kelud, which has left four dead.
Indonesian firefighters put out massive fire engulfing former peatland forest converted into palm oil plantation in Aceh Jaya district in Indonesia’s Aceh province on February 16, 2014
© AFP Chaideer Mahyuddin
Seeking to dismiss climate change sceptics, the top US diplomat said 97 percent of scientists agreed that global warming existed and was a direct result of human activity.
Kerry sought to appeal to his young audience, adding: “Think about it this way: all 10 of the hottest years on record have actually happened since Google went online in 1998.”
He warned of the costs of doing nothing, saying scientists believed that by the end of the century the seas could have risen by a meter (three feet).
“Just one meter is enough to put half of Jakarta under water. Just one meter would displace hundreds of millions of people worldwide and threaten billions in economic activity,” Kerry said.
Global warming could also have a devastating economic cost, he said, warning the acidification of the oceans could wipe out whole species — with some studies saying Indonesian fishermen could see their catches reduced by 40 percent.
A bird flies through a blanket of smoke from a spreading fire on former peatland forest converted into palm oil plantation in Aceh Jaya district in Indonesia’s Aceh province on February 16, 2014
© AFP Chaideer Mahyuddin
Kerry also referenced a recent World Bank report, which found that losses from flood damage at Asian ports alone could exceed $1 trillion annually.
Along with the United States, Indonesia, an archipelago of more than 17,000 islands, is one of the world’s biggest carbon emitters — mostly because of rampant deforestation in Jakarta’s case.
Kerry announced Saturday in Beijing that China and the United States, which together account for some 40 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions, had agreed to share information on steps to combat climate change ahead of 2015 UN-led efforts to set reduction goals for after 2020.
Traditionally the two have been on opposite ends of the bitter debate on how to tackle the problem, with China maintaining it is still a developing country and should not be held to any international regime on emissions reductions.
Paris will host the 2015 UN climate change conference at which a new pact to cut global emissions applicable to all countries is due to be hammered out.
The Paris talks are aimed at reaching a deal to succeed the 1997 Kyoto treaty, which the United States never ratified, maintaining any global pact must include China. The Kyoto protocol runs out in 2020.