Chairman Kerry Addresses Council on Foreign Relations
WASHINGTON, D.C. - Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) delivered a speech today titled, "Climate Change and American Foreign Policy: Security Challenges, Diplomatic Opportunities," at the New York City headquarters of the Council on Foreign Relations. His speech focused on the national security challenges of global climate change.
Full text as prepared is below:
I'm thrilled that Tom Brokaw could moderate our discussion today. He's a good friend. He's one of our country's best journalists, and like our friend Tim Russert—whom we lost one year ago yesterday—Tom has excelled at bringing world events and history alive.
And in the aftermath of last Friday's Iranian elections, it's clear we are living through some history together right now. I share the concern of many in Iran and around the world that the announced results of Iran's Presidential election appear not to reflect the will of the Iranian people. The subsequent crackdown only heightens those concerns.
The spirited debate, huge rallies and record-setting turnout show that the Iranian people want a real say in their government - and that many reject the hostile, confrontational approach of the past several years. It also reinforces the wisdom of President Obama's direct outreach to the Iranian people and his offer of a different vision for Iran's role in the world.
The fact that hardliners remain in control of Iran's government may make engagement more difficult, but it only underscores how vital it is that we prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. America will not be made safer if we end our engagement prematurely, before we know whether Iran can be dissuaded. Changing course at this moment will only empower those Iranians who want to see negotiations fail, and hurt those Iranians who have risen up in support of a better relationship. We will continue to voice our concerns, but we should not abandon engagement before it has been given a chance to work.
Of course, even as we confront the threats of today, we have to look to the future as well. In a 2004 interview with Time magazine, Tom was asked which story he most regretted not covering. Ever candid, he said: "I regret that we did not connect the dots earlier on terrorism." This was an enormously humble statement from a leading chronicler of terror since the Achille Lauro cruise ship hijacking 25 years ago. But in the aftermath of 9-11, his sentiment was shared by so many people in rooms just like this one: We simply didn't connect the dots in time.
Today, Tom and I -and many others-- are working to connect the dots on another emerging threat with potentially catastrophic implications: global climate change. Some of us have been at this a long time. In 1988, on an already hot June day, Al Gore and I held the first Senate hearings on climate change, during which Jim Hansen testified that the threat was real. Four years later, Al and I and a group of Senators went to Rio where we worked with 177 other nations to put in place a voluntary framework on climate change and greenhouse gas reductions.
17 years after Rio, 12 years after Kyoto, we are further behind than ever. We remained the world's largest greenhouse gas emitter until China passed us last year. The science is screaming at us, more definitive than ever. With each passing day, the danger and the urgency only grow.
Facts, as the saying goes, are "stubborn things," and here are a few incontrovertible facts: Atmospheric carbon dioxide levels have risen 38% in the industrial era, from 280 to 385 parts per million. Scientists have warned that anything above 450— a warming of 2 degrees Celsius- would result in an unacceptable risk of catastrophic climate change. Some scientists even set the maximum at 350, but that's too terrifying for many to contemplate since we're currently at 385.
And the simple reality is, we're not doing nearly enough about it. The Heinz Center, MIT, and The Fletcher School fed into the latest climate modeling the best offers of every country that has offered to do anything - China, 20% energy intensity reduction; Europe and the US, 80% reduction by 2050. The result? Even if we met today's ambitious goals, we're projected to hit 600-700 ppm by century's end. Bottom line: none of the current proposals get the job done. In short, the challenge grows more - not less—urgent.
Let me be clear: The threat we face is not an abstract concern for the future. It is already upon us, and its effects are being felt worldwide, right now. In four years, the Arctic is projected to experience its first ice-free summer—not in 2030—in 2013. And since dark water absorbs sunlight instead of reflecting it like snow and ice do, melting and warming build on each other. Earlier this year, a 25-mile wide ice bridge connecting the Wilkins Shelf to the Antarctic landmass shattered, disconnecting the Shelf from the Antarctic continent. The loss of Greenland's ice, together with West Antarctic ice melt, would be literally catastrophic, with sea levels rising 16-23 feet. Meanwhile, the ocean, which once absorbed CO2, is reaching its capacity and, ominously, has begun regurgitating CO2 back into the atmosphere.
We are deluding ourselves if we think these problems stop at our borders: the tiny coastal village of Newtok, Alaska, recently voted to relocate 9 miles inland because melting coastal ice shelves made their old home too dangerous. No longer can Newtok's residents "see Russia from their porch" (if they ever could)—but go to Alaska and you can see with your own two eyes the impact of its permafrost melting. You need only talk to Alaska's Senators to hear worrisome stories of warming's direct impact on their state. Not projected impact—current impact.
Because more than one-third of Americans live in coastal counties, as climate change intensifies, we risk repeating the story of Newtok, Alaska on a terrifying scale. So the melting is not a future prediction or possibility. It is being measured, and it is happening now.
A recently Siberian Shelf study found that as a result of under ocean permafrost lid melt, columns of methane bubbles are rising from the ocean floor. If you light a match where they meet the open air, the gas will ignite. And methane is twenty times more damaging than CO2.
We all know about the August 2001 memo warning President Bush that terrorists were determined to strike inside the US. 36 days later, they did. Today scientists tell us we have a ten-year window—if even that—before catastrophic climate change becomes inevitable and irreversible. Ladies and Gentlemen: this is our memo. These are our warnings. The time to act on them is now.
In 2007, eleven former Admirals and high-ranking generals issued a report from the Center for Naval Analysis warning that climate change is a "threat multiplier" with "the potential to create sustained natural and humanitarian disasters on a scale far beyond those we see today." In 2008, a National Intelligence Assessment echoed these warnings from inside our government. General Anthony Zinni, former commander of our forces in the Middle East, was characteristically blunt in assessing the threat. He warned that without action—and I quote—"we will pay the price later in military terms. And that will involve human lives. There will be a human toll."
Why? Because climate change injects a major new source of chaos, tension, and human insecurity into an already volatile world. It threatens to bring more famine and drought, worse pandemics, more natural disasters, more resource scarcity, and human displacement on a staggering scale. We risk fanning the flames of failed-statism, and offering glaring opportunities to the worst actors in our international system. In an interconnected world, that endangers all of us.
I'd be the first to acknowledge, the individual data points may sometimes be murky. But the pattern they create is irrefutably clear: We don't know if Hurricane Katrina was caused by climate change, but we do know that we are rapidly heading for a world where climate change causes worse Katrinas. We don't know with certainty whether climate change pushed Darfur over the edge, but we do know that it will cause more tension just like we've seen in Darfur.
Of course, we all know Darfur's genocide is a brutal choice made by leaders in Khartoum. But the conflict between the so-called "Arabs" and "Africans" has its roots in shifts in climate over the last four decades. Inch by inch, year by year, the desert consumed already scarce farmland, forcing farmers and herders to compete over ever-dwindling resources. Eventually the desert had grown by 60 miles, rainfall diminished by as much as 30%, and tensions arose. This is one example of how climate change contributes to a more dangerous world.
Nowhere is the nexus between today's threats and climate change more acute than in South Asia-the home of Al Qaeda and the center of our terrorist threat. Scientists are now warning that the Himalayan glaciers, which supply water to almost a billion people from China to Afghanistan, could disappear completely by 2035.
Think about what this means: Water from the Himalayas flows through India into Pakistan. India's rivers are not only vital to its agriculture, but absolutely central to its religious practice. Pakistan, for its part, is heavily dependent on irrigated farming to avoid famine. At a moment when the American government is scrambling to ratchet down tensions and preparing to invest billions to strengthen Pakistan's capacity to deliver for its people—it's infuriating to think that climate change could work so powerfully in the opposite direction.
Worldwide, climate change risks making the most volatile places even more combustible. The Middle East is home to six percent of the world's population but just two percent of the world's water. A demographic boom and a shrinking water supply will only tighten the squeeze on a region that doesn't need another reason to disagree violently.
Privately, we already hear the simmering resentment of diplomats whose countries bear the costs of our emissions. I can tell you from my own experience: it is real, and it is prevalent. It's not hard to see how this could crystallize into a virulent, dangerous, public anti-Americanism. That's a threat, too. Remember: the very places least responsible for climate change—and least equipped to deal with its impacts—will be among the very worst affected.
This is especially true of Africa. By 2020, up to 250 million Africans could face severe water shortages, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Because food security depends on water security, yields from rain-fed crops could drop by half in that time. Last month, Lancet called climate change "the biggest global health threat of the 21st century."
Already, a changing climate is pushing malaria into populations like those in the Kenyan highlands that had never been exposed to the disease. Meanwhile, by some estimates, more people worldwide will be displaced by environmental changes and natural disasters than by war next year. Africa, which already knows the instability, conflict, and competition over scarce resources that often create refugees and IDPs, will now confront these same challenges with an ever growing population of EDPs—environmentally displaced people.
Closer to home, there is scarcely an instrument of American foreign policy that will be untouched by a changing climate. Diego Garcia Island in the Indian Ocean, a vital hub for our military operations across the Middle East, sits on an atoll just a few feet above sea level. Norfolk, VA, home to our Atlantic Fleet, will be submerged by one meter of sea level rise. All of our Navy's piers are actually cemented to the ocean floor—which means that any rise in sea level will literally require the Navy to rebuild all of them. Are these problems insurmountable? No. But they will be expensive, and they risk compromising our readiness.
Of course, the future has a way of humbling those who try to predict it too precisely. But we do know, from scientists and security experts, that the threat is very real. If we once again fail to connect the dots—if we fail to take action—the simple, indisputable reality is that we will find ourselves living not only in a ravaged environment, but also in a much more dangerous world.
While many measures small and large will be needed across government, none will be nearly as important as committed American leadership. Domestic mandatory emissions reductions are the only way to convince the world that we are serious about meeting this threat. And make no mistake: to create the foundation of a global response, we have to prove we're serious.
In six months, delegates from 192 nations will gather in Copenhagen to create a new global climate treaty. Our core challenge is how to give life to the guiding principle already embraced in the UN framework, of "common but differentiated responsibilities" among nations. In Kyoto people stiff-armed that discussion. But the landscape has shifted: China is now the world's largest emitter, and developing countries will account for three-quarters of increases in global energy use over the next two decades.
We must put aside entrenched positions and establish a constructive framework for action from everyone. That means securing aggressive emissions cuts from developed countries, but also guaranteeing that developing nations take measurable, reportable and verifiable actions to alter their energy use patterns, adopting low-carbon growth pathways so that they can begin reducing emissions within the next 10 to 15 years.
The success or failure of these negotiations will largely depend on one of the defining partnerships of the 21st century: the relationship between America and China. That's why, last month, I went to China to explore opportunities for cooperation. I went with a simple message: America understands that we have an obligation to lead, and we will. But China needs to understand that America will not enter into a global treaty without a meaningful commitment from China to be part of the solution.
What I saw and heard from top Chinese political and military leaders, energy executives, scientists, students, and environmentalists was enormously encouraging. People who, a few short years ago, weren't even willing to entertain this discussion, are now unequivocal: China grasps the urgency of the problem, is eager to embrace clean energy, and is ready to be a "positive, constructive" player in negotiations going forward.
The Chinese now appreciate that addressing climate change and pursuing sustainable energy policies is very much in their own interest. Air pollution causes the premature deaths of 750,000 Chinese people every year. Portions of the Yangtze River, which supports half a billion people, are drying up. Boats are literally running aground. China's stability has depended on economic growth—a bargain that could be sorely tested if environmental devastation forces tens of millions off their land. And a less stable, less predictable China means a more dangerous world.
Everyone I spoke to recognized these risks. It's time we permanently retire the outdated myth that China doesn't care and won't act. They do care, they are acting, and they're moving fast. I rode the 200-mile-an-hour bullet train from Beijing to Tianjin. The old train took eight hours and ran on diesel; the new electric train takes twenty-nine minutes. Shanghai's "mag lev" train actually goes 300 mph, and China will grow its high-speed rail system by 38% by 2013. While America invested $80 billion this year on green stimulus measures, China spent $200 billion.
China's efforts are impressive—but the sheer scale of the transformation required is such that it's in our interest to do more to enable China to modernize in a way that doesn't condemn the planet to catastrophe. Our opportunity here is immense: We should collaborate on multiple demonstration projects of near-to-market clean energy technology, from solar thermal to carbon capture and storage. We should combine forces in driving toward next-generation battery and electric vehicle technology.
Most importantly, we must inspire the 1.6 billion Americans and Chinese to take ownership of this challenge, and prove to the world that we can rise to meet it together. When you consider that America worked with Chairman Mao's Communist China when we recognized a shared threat from Russia, it puts today's differences in perspective. If we succeed, America and China can establish a pattern of cooperation that will pay dividends on every issue we face together.
Unfortunately, not everyone in our domestic politics appreciates the stakes. House Minority Whip John Boehner recently characterized the threat we face this way: "The idea that carbon dioxide is a carcinogen that is harmful to our environment is almost comical. Every time we exhale, we exhale carbon dioxide. Every cow in the world, you know, when they do what they do, you've got more carbon dioxide." So we live in a country where if you dismiss the threat posed by terrorism, you would be laughed out of the political mainstream. But if you dismiss the threat of climate change, you might just find yourself a leadership position inside the Republican Party. That needs to change.
We need to win these arguments, and we need to win them publicly. We have to educate and mobilize the American people to respond to this urgent threat. And I can tell you from my own conversations with colleagues, we have to educate Senators too!
The truth is, the upside of taking action now far outweighs the potential downsides the naysayers and status quo-ists predict. Other countries will develop the technologies and jobs of the future if we don't—in fact, they already are. Also, Sir Nicholas Stern and others have shown how much more it will cost to respond to climate change later than to prevent it now. Fortune 500 CEOs insist on how important it is to their competitive positions that we set a price for carbon and provide certainty to the marketplace. And the national security implications are clear and present.
This moment requires us to use the narrow window we have to forestall a crisis while we still can. We need to consider a simple comparison. What if Al Gore, John Kerry and thousands of scientists and security experts and leaders around the world are wrong? What's the worst that would happen if we do the things we're proposing? Well, if we respond adequately, change our energy habits, provide new technologies and solve the problem on a global basis, the worst that would happen is we are all healthier because of cleaner air; we will have transformed our economies and created millions of clean energy, high value added, sustainable jobs; we will have lived up to our environmental responsibility to create sustainable development policies, planted and saved forests and reduced disease and toxic poisoning that comes from antiquated industrial practices; we will have lived up to our humanitarian responsibilities to help developing countries avoid disease and dislocation; and we will have hugely enhanced our security by becoming less fossil fuel and foreign-oil dependent. That's the worst that will happen if we're wrong.
But what if the deniers and delayers are wrong? What are the consequences then? Plain and simple: sheer catastrophe. Folks, is there even a choice here?
It's easy to forget how quickly and how utterly the world can change, for better and for worse. Some old news footage has been circulating the Internet recently. It's from 1995. Tom Brokaw is offering his viewers "a look at a part of the computer world that we've all been hearing a good deal about but many of us still don't understand. It's called the Internet." Tom marvels at a CD-Rom drive attached to a brick-like laptop and declares: "this new electronic world promises to have virtual shopping malls where you can roam from place to place and buy things at the click of a mouse." That was our reality just fourteen years ago.
Think how quickly the Internet evolved from a futuristic oddity into a lynchpin of our daily lives. The future will be here faster than any of us think. The threats will arrive faster, but so can the breakthroughs- if we commit now to make them possible. Keeping America safe requires us to be ready for both. First, we have to connect the dots. And then we have to act. Thank you.
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