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Prepared Remarks by U.S. Senator John Kerry

Speaker: John F. Kerry, U.S. Senator
October 29, 2007
Council on Foreign Relations

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New York City, New York


I'd like to focus my introductory remarks on an issue which frankly not enough people are talking about in the context of our foreign policy - but which could have a greater long-term impact on our security than any other: and that is global climate change.

There will be critical meetings this year about our security --- Secretary Rice's Mideast Summit in Annapolis, perhaps some meetings between US and Iranian officials. But potentially just as important is the meeting which will happen just over a month from now, when delegates from 154+ nations arrive in Bali to start work on a new international climate change treaty, and I'll be leading a bipartisan delegation from the US Senate.

The road to our present predicament is littered with missed opportunities, but we still face the same, ever more acute, choice: either America finally leads the world in crafting a comprehensive new international agreement, or the countries of the world will pollute our way into a catastrophe of unknowable parameters but undeniable peril.

We've all heard the warnings. Drought. Famine. Floods. Refugees. Devastated crops. Lost GDP. Instability. Border tensions -- and more of the failed states that shelter and breed terrorists. The plagues seem to stop just short of the Old Testament slaying of the firstborn in Egypt. But we can't wait for divine intervention -- we have to act. How's this for a call to action? Here's a recent headline from Time magazine: "How to prevent the next Darfur. Step One: Get serious about climate change." I'm pleased but not surprised to hear that the Council is once again ahead of the curve, and I look forward to hearing from the Independent Task Force chaired by Tom Vilsack and George Pataki.

I don't intend to use this forum to dwell on or re-litigate the science, but let me say briefly, since the start of the industrial age, atmospheric CO2 levels are up 35%, to 380 parts per million. Scientists say that anything above 450 -- which means a total warming of 2 degrees centigrade -- passes a tipping point into catastrophic climate change. And guess what?Unless we slam the brakes -- now -- we'll hit 600-700 ppm by 2100.

Mobilizing to solve climate change is especially tough because of the delayed onset of its impact -- emissions stay in the atmosphere for 100 years, so the window for preventing climate change may close before we even begin to feel its full force. But the first signs are there: Recently we learned that Arctic sea ice is down 39% from its long-term average -- and maybe as much as 50% since the 1950s. Two weeks ago, Nature warned that oceans -- which historically absorb about a quarter of our CO2 -- are losing their capacity to serve as a "sink" for our emissions. As a result, the increased CO2 in the atmosphere has outpaced even our own dire predictions by 35% over the last 7 years. That's the evidence: clear, growing, and urgent.

I don't have to emphasize just how much we've been set back by 8 years outside the international system. It is crucial that our delegation to Bali send a clear message to the world that America is finally serious about fixing climate change. We're ready to end the era of obstruction and start leading by example.

We, as a nation, are indispensable to this process. Our inaction is a green light to all the world's polluters. But it's humbling to remember that even when we had leadership that recognized the problem, a White House that signed a treaty, we still couldn't put a system in place that reduced CO2 emissions. Kyoto failed. And it failed because we weren't able to bridge the gap between developed and developing nations.

Our primary goal in Bali must be to arrive at a mandate for future negotiations to finally reach a truly global agreement on a truly global effort-- not one that leaves the world's largest emitter of the past and the largest emitters of the future outside the system. That's why we failed last time.

Ten years ago, the issue simply wasn't ripe for solution -- it wasn't possible to craft a treaty that China would sign and the US Senate would ratify. I can't emphasize enough how much -- and how quickly -- things have changed in both countries. You've witnessed the sea change here over the past few years. What is less well known is that today, a country like China finally grasps that they have an immediate and vital interest in getting this right. China has 16 of the world's 20 most polluted cities. Chinese villagers in Yunnan have watched their sacred Mingyong Glacier disappear before their very eyes. China put forth a climate change plan this year. They've already begun setting ambitious goals, such as a 20% cut in energy intensity by 2010. Next year, China's fleet-wide fuel efficiency will be 36.7 mpg -- higher than the Senate's proposed target for 2020. There's a cartoon out there that China won't listen -- but the reality is that a diplomatic breakthrough may be within reach.

That's the best thing that could come out of Bali -- an agreement on a serious mandate for moving forward. Ultimately, it boils down to this: the only fair, realistic solution is shared but differentiated responsibility. The US and other industrialized nations must accept mandatory caps and acknowledge that poorer nations won't forego economic growth or bear the cost of other's past emissions. China and other developing countries will have to take on their own binding commitments -- not the same form as ours -- but perhaps a commitment per unit of GDP growth instead of population or a single-industry cap. Down the road, China, India, Brazil, Mexico and other developing nations will have to lower absolute emissions. But today we must share the challenge of putting China on a path to doing so without infringing on its right to economic development. The consequences of China's failure will be ours too.

That is why, in Bali and beyond, we must also commit ourselves to a massive new campaign aimed at fostering green development. And at the heart of that effort must be coal. We have to spread carbon capture and sequestration techniques -- which can capture up to 100% of coal's emissions -- to China and the rest of the developing world. We must be realistic about the fact that a developing county like China -- rich in coal, growing at 11%, and in need of a cheap source of energy -- won't adopt clean coal technology unless we help them. And their decisions may be irreversible: Today the Chinese are building one coal-fired power plant per week -- most are not even designed so that they might be retrofitted later with clean technology. That's the real cost of inaction in real time. Coal accounts for 80% of China's CO2 emissions, and the EPA tells us that Chinese pollution accounts for ¼ of the smog over Los Angeles. That too is a cost of inaction. We should create an internationally-funded research consortium devoted to developing green technologies and spreading them to developing countries -- we need to do everything we can -- not just to develop green technologies, but to see them actually adopted by billions of people.

We should be reducing tariffs on green producers overseas, rewarding countries that meet emissions standards, and helping US companies to sell green products overseas. We should be financing low-carbon energy sources and vehicles through institutions like the World Bank, and building capacity for energy and environmental data collection.

Finally, we must address deforestation -- which accounts for 20% of emissions, Because they pull CO2 out of the air, forests are the planet's natural defense. This needs to be a major part of our next agreement, and in the meantime we need to make sure these countries have tools to measure the problem and capacity to start addressing it.

We must begin thinking of climate change as a major issue in our foreign policy and national security. We should recognize that the solutions to many of our greatest challenges-- energy security, terrorism, democracy promotion, and climate change -- all intersect when it comes to our use of energy. Over the next 25 years, oil consumption in developing Asian nations will double to 32 million barrels per day -- accounting for 80% of increased global demand for oil, much of it housed in unstable, authoritarian regimes. All of our most pressing geopolitical concerns point us in the same direction: a massive investment in alternative energy and green technology.

This is a test of America as a world leader in the 21st century. We need a new environmental diplomacy -- a commitment to make the fight against global warming an integral part of our foreign relations and our national security strategy. Just ask the 11 high-ranking retired soldiers from every branch of the military who called it "a serious national security threat" -- a "threat multiplier" that sparks and exacerbates conflict.

In the wake of the Cuban Missile Crisis, the world's two superpowers walked back from the brink of mutual assured destruction. Kennedy and Khrushchev set up a hotline between Washington and Moscow because they understood that, at the end of the day, the buck stopped with them. That's where America, China, and the developing world stand today -- we've taken brinksmanship as far as it goes. Now it's time to reach for the phone and give diplomacy a try. Our security depends more than ever before on our ability to influence others -- we must get back into the business of good old fashioned persuasion.

Ultimately, the threat of climate change demands a new approach from America that looks an awful lot like the America we remember, the place Lincoln called "the last best hope of earth". We should recommit to the hard but vital work of diplomacy and reengage with the rest of the planet. We must return to an understanding of the world where real strength means not just the absence of restraints but also the moral leadership that comes from leading by example.

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