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Boston Globe - Planet's Fate Hinges on Our Choices

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Boston Globe - Planet's Fate Hinges on Our Choices

By John Kerry

WHILE LEADERS across the globe study the tea leaves of last week's Middle East peace conference in Annapolis, diplomats are meeting half a world away with the potential to be just as critical to our future and our security. Delegates from nearly every country in the world are arriving in Bali, Indonesia, to start work on a new international climate-change treaty. These negotiations mark the beginning of a process that may well hold in the balance the survival of our planet as we know it, not to mention the long-term safety of coastal cities like Boston.

During the American Revolution, Benjamin Franklin wrote, "We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately." Today, the nations of the world face a similar choice: Either we finally commit ourselves to a collective global effort to combat climate change, or we resign ourselves to watching humanity pollute our way toward calamity.

This week, Senator Barbara Boxer and I are leading a Senate delegation to Bali. We have been on the front lines of the battle to change America's domestic policies on energy and emissions. But unless we simultaneously engage the developing world in an effort to address greenhouse gas emissions, our best efforts at home could be swallowed whole by a surge of new emissions overseas.

Never before in human history has half the world industrialized at the same time. In the decades ahead, many of the 3 billion people living in China, India, Brazil, Mexico, and Indonesia will begin driving cars, consuming ever greater quantities of energy and resources, and building the factories and power plants to sustain those habits.

America must step up and lead in the best traditions of our foreign policy. Otherwise, the world will not mobilize to stop catastrophic climate change in time. Today, American inaction has been used both as an excuse and a green light for all the world's polluters to continue behavior that will ultimately threaten life on Earth.

In 1992, I was part of the Senate delegation to the Rio Earth Summit. Each year since 1992, the science has become more certain. Across the world scientists and political leaders - except, too often, ours - have spoken out and acted decisively. Only the United States stands out as a holdout for inaction.

That is why our most important goal in Bali is to send a clear message to the world that America is finally serious about fixing climate change. We should take a leadership role in developing a "Bali mandate" for negotiations toward a truly global agreement, not one that leaves the world's largest emitter of the past and the largest emitters of the future outside the system. That's what doomed the Kyoto Protocol and helped send the world on a collision course with a catastrophe of our own making.

I can't emphasize enough how much things have changed since then. We've all seen attitudes shift dramatically here at home. What is less well known is that today a country like China recognizes its vital interest in curbing emissions. China, home to 16 of the world's 20 most polluted cities, plans a 20 percent cut in energy intensity by 2010. Next year, China's fleet-wide fuel efficiency will be 36.7 miles per gallon - higher than the Senate's proposed target for 2020. There's a caricature out there that China won't listen - conveniently used by posturing politicians here at home who themselves refuse to listen to science - but the reality is that a diplomatic breakthrough may be within reach.

The only fair and realistic basis for a solution that satisfies both the developed and developing worlds is shared but differentiated responsibility. The United States and other industrialized nations must accept mandatory caps. China and other developing countries will have to make their own significant contributions - not in the same form as ours, but perhaps a reduction per unit of GDP growth or sector-based caps. Down the road, China, India, Brazil, Mexico, and other developing nations will have to lower absolute emissions. But today we must put developing countries on a path to lowering emissions without impeding their economic growth.

In Bali and beyond, America must also commit to a massive new campaign aimed at fostering green development - stoking green innovations and helping billions of people to adopt them. At the heart of that effort must be new technologies that capture and sequester the carbon emissions caused by burning coal. Today the Chinese are building one coal-fired power plant per week, each of which will continue polluting for decades to come. We should also create an internationally-funded research consortium and reduce tariffs on green producers overseas. We can reward countries that meet emissions standards and help US companies to sell green products overseas.

Our response to climate change is a test of America's leadership 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.

Lincoln called America "the last, best hope of earth." Those words are still true, so let's stop being the denier of global warming that endangers the Earth. Let's not just hope for progress in Bali, let's make it happen.


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