John Kerry warns Indonesia on climate threat

Urges strong steps to cut emissions of greenhouse gases

Secretary of State John F. Kerry said Sunday that rising seas could put much of Jakarta, Indonesia’s capital, under water and cripple the country’s fishing industry.
Evan Vucci/AFP/Getty Images
Secretary of State John F. Kerry said Sunday that rising seas could put much of Jakarta, Indonesia’s capital, under water and cripple the country’s fishing industry.

JAKARTA, Indonesia — Secretary of State John F. Kerry urged Indonesia to take steps to combat climate change, warning Sunday that failure to act would jeopardize the nation’s resources and damage its economy.

Warming sea temperatures, he said, could deal a severe blow to Indonesia’s fishing industry, while powerful storms could buffet the country and rising seas put much of Jakarta, the capital, under water.

Indonesia, which has more than 240 million people, is in third place in greenhouse gas emissions, after China and the United States.


“This city, this country, this region is really on the front lines of climate change,” Kerry said in a speech. “It’s not an exaggeration to say to you that your entire way of life that you live and love is at risk.”

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Kerry mocked those who deny the existence of global warming or question its causes, comparing them to people who insist the Earth is flat. He accused critics of using shoddy science to delay a response to the crisis.

Kerry, who has long been outspoken concerning climate change, hopes to make it a signature issue of his tenure as secretary of state. He aims, in particular, to be the lead broker of a 2015 UN treaty committing the world’s economies to significant cuts in carbon emissions and sweeping changes in the global energy economy.

The deliberations over climate change, however, have long been marked by disputes over which nations should bear major responsibility for limiting greenhouse gas emissions.

China, India, and other developing Asian economies have resisted US urging to commit to reductions in their own carbon emissions, arguing that the United States, the world’s largest economy, should shoulder most of the economic burden.


Kerry has pointed out, however, that unilateral action by the United States will not slow the rate of global warming significantly unless other large economies commit to carbon cuts.

China recently surpassed the United States as the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, and emissions across Asia are projected to surge in the coming decades, as millions more people in the developing economies there begin to drive automobiles and gain access to electric power.

The chief source of Indonesia’s emissions is deforestation, but as its growing population depends increasingly on electricity from cheap coal-fired power plants, the country’s emissions are expected to grow rapidly in coming decades.

Kerry’s speech was delivered at a cultural center in Jakarta sponsored by the US Embassy, and was transmitted to similar centers on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra. It was one of a series of addresses in which the secretary of state will try to convince developing nations that they have an economic stake in addressing the problem.

Kerry did not say what specific steps Indonesia should take. But he cast the problem in near-apocalyptic terms, comparing the severity of the threat to that from weapons of mass destruction.


Warmer and more acidic sea water could reduce Indonesian fish catches by 40 percent, he said, while a 3-foot rise in the sea level would be “enough to put half of Jakarta under water.” He cited a World Bank report warning of $1 trillion a year in flood damage by 2050 unless major efforts are made to improve Asian ports.

‘It’s not an exaggeration to say to you that your entire way of life that you live and love is at risk.’

Secretary of State John F. Kerry, during a speech in Jakarta 

Kerry said the scientific debate over climate change was settled, with 97 percent of scientists saying the problem is real.

Combating climate change was also a main agenda item during Kerry’s visit to Beijing on Friday and Saturday.

After Chinese and US officials met there, the Americans announced agreement on joint initiatives to reduce emissions from heavy-duty vehicles, to promote improved technology for power grids and carbon capture, to collect and manage greenhouse gas data, and to make buildings more energy-efficient.

A senior State Department official said the statement was noteworthy because it was agreed on by “the two biggest emitters.”

Kerry asserted Sunday that the United States had made strides in dealing with climate change. But he made no mention of the Obama administration’s pending decision on whether to approve construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline, which US environmentalists oppose.

The pipeline would carry carbon-heavy tar-sands oil from Canada to the United States; a recent State Department report concluded that if the pipeline was not built, the oil would still be extracted at the same rate but would be shipped by rail, so building the pipeline would not exacerbate carbon emissions significantly.

Indonesia is the third stop on Kerry’s diplomatic swing through Asia.