JAKARTA, Indonesia — 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 U.S.-run cultural center 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."
The secretary of state, 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 canceled because the president was occupied coordinating efforts after the eruption of the volcano, Mount Kelud, which has left four dead.
Seeking to dismiss climate change skeptics, the top U.S. diplomat said 97 percent of scientists agreed that global warming existed and was a direct result of human activity, and blasted those who differ.
"We simply don't have time to let a few loud interest groups hijack the climate conversation," he said, referring to what he called "big companies" that "don't want to change and spend a lot of money" to act to reduce the risks. He later singled out big oil and coal concerns as the primary offenders.
"We should not allow a tiny minority of shoddy scientists and science and extreme ideologues to compete with scientific facts," Kerry told the audience. "Nor should we allow any room for those who think that the costs associated with doing the right thing outweigh the benefits."
“The science is unequivocal, and those who refuse to believe it are simply burying their heads in the sand," Kerry said. "We don't have time for a meeting anywhere of the Flat Earth Society.”
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 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.
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 U.N.-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 U.N. 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.
The agreement to collaborate between China, the developing world's largest emitter, and the United States, the developed world's biggest greenhouse gas producer, could send a powerful signal to other developing countries to clean up their act.
Currently developing countries account for some 55 percent of global emissions, many of which come from manufacturing goods for export.
Developed countries have made major efforts to cut carbon pollutants escaping into the atmosphere.
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