US Secretary of State John Kerry has 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 on Sunday 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.
“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 industrialised 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 on 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 on Sunday that a planned meeting with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono had been cancelled because the president was occupied co-ordinating efforts after the eruption of the volcano, Mount Kelud, which has left four dead.
Seeking to dismiss climate change sceptics, the top US diplomat said 97 per cent 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 metre.
“Just one metre is enough to put half of Jakarta under water. Just one metre would displace hundreds of millions of people worldwide and threaten billions in economic activity,” Kerry said.