Kerry: Every nation must act to tackle climate change

US secretary of state says US will take the lead, but other nations must follow for success in fight against climate change

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There are no excuses for not acting on moral challenge of climate change, says Kerry

By Sophie Yeo in Lima

Every country, rich or poor, must take action to tackle climate change, said US secretary of state John Kerry, addressing the UN climate talks in Lima today.

“Every nation – and I repeat this as we hear the debates going back and forth here – every nation has a responsibility to do its part if we’re going to pass this test,” he said.

“Only those nations that step up and respond to this threat can legitimately lay claim to any mantle of leadership and global responsibility.

“And yes, if you’re a big developed nation and you’re not helping to lead, then you are part of the problem.”

As countries try to agree on a new UN deal to tackle climate change in Lima, familiar battles have resurfaced over who should bear the brunt of tackling climate change.

Many argue that the rich nations, which developed on the back of fossil fuels, should accept responsibility for reducing their emissions now.

But, said Kerry, the fact that developing nations are now responsible for over half of global emissions means that they also had to act.

He said: “I know the discussions can be tense and the decisions difficult. I know how angry some people are about the predicament they’ve been put in by big nations that have benefited from industrialisation for a long period of time.

“But the fact is, we simple don’t have time to sit around going back and forth about whose responsibility it is to act. Pretty simple folks: it’s everyone’s responsibility because it’s the net amount of carbon that matters.”

China pact

Kerry, who was present at the last global effort to sign off an agreement in Copenhagen in 2009, admitted that the US would nonetheless have to take the lead.

But he said that even if the country reduced its emissions to zero, it would not be enough to avert dangerous climate change.

The US-China pact, which saw the countries’ two presidents announce join actions to cut their emissions, was evidence that the divide could be overcome, he said; 10 to 15 years ago, the two countries were engaging in discussions that “went nowhere”.

And while the UN deal set to be signed in Paris would be no silver bullet to the problem, he said that there could be no hope of success without it.

The speech was well received by green groups in Lima.

Mohamed Adow, senior climate change advisor at Christian Aid, said: “Kerry is absolutely right when he says that the US has been a major part of creating the mess we’re in.

“But the good thing is he recognises that America is now part of the solution and is shifting us onto the right climate path. I’m happy to welcome the United States, like a repentant sinner, back onto the side of those calling for urgent, life-saving action, to create a better world.”

Back home

But attention also circled onto US climate policy back at home.

Jamie Henn from 350.org said: “Approving the [Keystone XL] pipeline after that humdinger would be absolute hypocrisy.”

Karen Orenstein, a senior analyst at Friends of the Earth US, said that she was tired of “empty boasting” from the US.

“Yes, the political climate in Washington DC is indisputably difficult,” she said.

“But that doesn’t excuse president Obama’s advocacy for a non-science-based, voluntary climate agreement internationally, or his decision at home to give fossil fuel polluters access to publicly owned lands.”

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