It was an exciting moment for environmentalists Sunday when Secretary of State John Kerry gave a speech in Indonesia emphasizing the severity of the potential consequences of climate disruption. Kerry -- who has been a climate policy leader since he was in the Senate -- equated the threat of catastrophic climate change to that of nuclear weapons proliferation.
The latter has been the single greatest fear of American presidents since the dawn of the atomic era. It led us into war in Iraq, which demonstrated the foolishness of combating an international problem unilaterally. And now Kerry is applying that lesson to climate change, arguing that the only effective course of action is multilateral cooperation. “Every nation on Earth has a responsibility to do its part if we have any hope of leaving our future generations the safe and healthy planet that they deserve,” said Kerry. He went on to imply that developing countries should agree to limit their emissions at U.N. climate negotiations in Paris next year.
From the Obama administration’s perspective, Kerry is sending an important signal: That they view global warming as a threat to human life and international stability, and combating it will be an organizing principle of U.S. foreign policy. This is certainly a break with Obama’s predecessor, and even with Obama’s first term, which was more focused on narrowly tailored actions to address immediate humanitarian crises and on decapitating Al Qaeda.