Kerry, the incoming chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, made those comments in speaking with reporters during a conference call Tuesday. The call was organized to address an upcoming climate change conference (Dec. 1-12) in Poznan, Poland.
With scientific evidence weighing in favor of the idea that global warming is man made, it is imperative for the global community to shift away from dependence on fossil fuels and to a green economy as a matter of survival, Kerry said.
“You can’t be half-pregnant on this issue,” he said. “You can’t accept the science and say ‘yes, global warming is man made and yes, climate change is happening faster than the scientists in fact thought it was going to,’ and then not accept the same scientific conclusions with respect to what that impact is and what we’re already witnessing.”
Kerry expressed concern over melting ice caps, rising ocean levels, weather pattern changes, forest migration, agricultural changes and potential draughts.
The PolandClimate Change Conference should be viewed as a “steeping stone” to help set up a framework for future discussions and is not meant as a substantive negotiation session, said Kerry. The December meetings will instead lay the groundwork for the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark where a treaty could be produced, he said.
“We cannot repeat the mistakes of the Kyoto Protocol where disagreement over the structure resulted in the president signing a treaty the Senate would never ratify,” Kerry said. “We intend to be a full partner with the administration in defining the contours of a global agreement and leading the global community in addressing this challenge.”
With President-elect Barack Obama coming out openly in favor of a cap-and-trade system in combination with “additional votes” in the House and Senate, Kerry said he is encouraged about the future prospects for climate change legislation.
“It’s a very exciting time, it’s a moment we’ve been waiting for, for many of us, for some period of time – well, for eight years to be blunt,” he said. “We intend to pick up the baton and really run with it here.”
Under cap and trade, electric utilities, manufacturers, and other firms would be limited in the amount of carbon dioxide they could release in the air. Companies that emitted more than the limit prescribed to them would then have to buy “carbon allowances” in a government-contrived system from companies that had carbon credits. Those companies would largely include “green” firms that are environmentally friendly in their production and what that they produce, e.g., possibly solar-powered generators.
The Kyoto Protocol of 1997, named after the Japanese city where it was formulated, called for participating countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by about 5.2 percent below 1990 levels by the year 2012.
In a video message to governors attending a two-day summit (Nov. 18-19) on global warming in California, organized by Arnold Schwarzenegger, the state’s Republican governor, Barack Obama outlined his own federal proposal.
“We will establish strong annual targets that set us on a course to reduce emissions to their 1990 level by 2020 and reduce them an additional 80 percent by 2050,” Obama said. Further, we will invest $15 billion each year to catalyze private sector efforts to build a clean energy future.”
Kerry commended Obama for setting a specific goal and target for 2050 and said that in the intervening years it would be important for law-makers to “recognize the reality of the science.”
In the question-and-answer session on the conference call, Kerry was asked about the possibility of obtaining concessions from countries like China and India, which are also reliant on fossil fuels as an engine of economic growth.
Kerry said that would be a challenge in light of current economic conditions. But he was optimistic about the prospect for international partnerships. Because the “science is compelling,” industrialized nations like the United States must be willing to make investments that will translate into better economic returns over the long term and a safer environment, he said.
Negotiations with the Chinese have been particularly difficult over the years, Kerry observed. However, he did detect and a change in attitude the U.N. environmental summit held last year in Bali, Indonesia.
“I’ve been meeting with the China delegation going all the way back to the first meetings,” he said. “Usually, we just stare at each other and sort of have conversation, which was not a conversation. They just wouldn’t hear of anything. They saw any of this effort as a Western conspiracy to prevent them from growing.”
But that changed in Bali, Kerry recalled, when one environmental minister from communist China arrived ahead of his delegation to discuss new initaitives.
There is now a significant transformation effort underway that involves “green roof houses” and emissions controls, Kerry said. The leadership in developed countries such as China now recognize that there is a genuine danger connected with climate change, he observed.