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John Kerry: Climate change as big a threat as terrorism, poverty, WMDs

By Steve Almasy, CNN
updated 8:42 AM EST, Mon February 17, 2014
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry gestures during a speech on climate change in Jakarta, Indonesia.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry gestures during a speech on climate change in Jakarta, Indonesia.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Secretary of State John Kerry says climate deniers are supported by shoddy science
  • He says little has been done since the 1990s when scientists first spoke of the problem
  • U.S. giving Indonesia more than $300 million in aid to reduce deforestation
  • Kerry says China agrees to framework for discussions on how to deal with climate change

(CNN) -- Saying that climate change ranks among the world's most serious problems -- such as disease outbreaks, poverty, terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction -- U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called on all nations to respond to "the greatest challenge of our generation."

Kerry, speaking before college students in Jakarta, Indonesia, also criticized climate-change deniers, saying "a few loud interest groups" shouldn't be given the chance to misdirect the conversation.

Kerry reiterated U.S. President Barack Obama's assertion in the State of the Union address that climate change is an undeniable fact.

"We should not allow a tiny minority of shoddy scientists and science and extreme ideologues to compete with scientific fact," Kerry said at the U.S. Embassy's @america function in Jakarta.

Too many ecosystems such as Indonesia's are in peril because of climate change, he said. He said Indonesia's important fishing trade would be adversely affected, citing a study that said catches in the island nation will decline by 40 percent.

Kerry recalled a meeting in Brazil where many experts described the growing problem caused by climate change. The session was in 1992. Very little has been done sine then, he said.

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"It is time for the world to approach this problem with the cooperation, the urgency, and the commitment that a challenge of this scale warrants," he said.

The secretary acknowledged the role the United States plays in greenhouse gas emissions and referred to the President's Climate Action Plan, which calls for cutting emissions by 17 percent from 2005 levels.

"That's because we're going straight to the largest sources of pollution," he said.

Kerry said he and Obama had no time for what he called the "Flat Earth Society." It will soon be too late for action to prevent the immense costs of doing nothing. People who refuse to look at the evidence and agree on change are "burying their heads" in the sand, he said.

On Friday, Obama toured a California farm hit by serious and prolonged drought. He warned that some damage to the climate had already been done and will continue unless countries "do more to combat the carbon pollution that causes climate change."

Kerry was fresh off a Saturday meeting in China, the No. 1 producer of greenhouse gas emissions. He said the two nations have agreed to a partnership that will share "information and policies so that we can help develop plans to deal with the U.N. climate change negotiation that takes place in Paris next year."

But, Kerry added, while industrialized countries produce a majority of emissions, other nations shouldn't get a free pass.

He called on Indonesians to push their government to change policies.

The United States will help, too, he said. He announced $332 million in funding through the Green Prosperity program to help Indonesia tackle unsustainable deforestation and support clean-energy projects.

The United States has also forgiven some of Indonesia's debt in a debt-for-nature swap in exchange for forest conservation.

The World Wildlife Federation estimates that half of Sumatra's forest cover disappeared from 1985 to 2008. The government has halted the cutting of virgin forest, also known as primary forest.

"With Indonesia and the rest of the world pulling in the same direction, we can meet this challenge, the greatest challenge of our generation, and we can create the future that everybody dreams of," he said.

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