JAKARTA - US Secretary of State John Kerry warned Indonesians on Sunday that climate change could threaten their “entire way of life” as he called for all nations to do more to stop global warming.
Speaking to students, Kerry derided skeptics of the view that human activity causes global warming as “shoddy scientists” and “extreme ideologues” and he said big companies and special interests should not be allowed to “hijack” the climate debate.
Aides said the US secretary of state had chosen Indonesia for the first of what is to be a series of speeches on the topic this year partly because as an archipelago of more than 17,000 islands it is particularly at risk from rising sea levels.
“Because of climate change, it’s no secret that today Indonesia is...one of the most vulnerable countries on Earth,” Kerry said in speech at a high-tech US-funded cultural center at a Jakarta mall. “It’s not an exaggeration to say that the entire way of life that you live and love is at risk,” he added.
Kerry’s public push takes place against the backdrop of a negotiation among nearly 200 nations about a possible new global treaty on climate change that is scheduled to be agreed next year and to address greenhouse gas emissions from 2020.
In Beijing on Friday, Kerry announced that China and the United States, the world’s largest emitters of such gases, had agreed to intensify information-sharing and policy discussions on their plans to limit greenhouse gas emissions after 2020.
US officials made clear they hope that the example of the two countries, historically on different sides of the debate, working together might inspire other nations to do more to combat climate change.
Despite evidence that human activities that emit carbon dioxide contribute to climate change, some skeptics believe a rise in global temperatures is due to natural variability or other non-human factors. Others question whether temperatures are in fact rising.
The fact that temperatures have risen more slowly in the past 15 years despite rising greenhouse gas emissions has emboldened skeptics who challenge the evidence for man-made climate change and who question the need for urgent action.
Kerry, who faces a politically tricky decision at home on whether to allow Canada’s TransCanada Corp to build the Keystone XL pipeline despite the opposition of environmental groups, had little patience for such skeptics in his speech.
“We just don’t have time to let a few loud interest groups hijack the climate conversation,” he said. “I’m talking about big companies that like it the way it is, that don’t want to change, and spend a lot of money to keep you and me and everybody from doing what we know we need to do.
“We should not allow a tiny minority of shoddy scientists...and extreme ideologues to compete with scientific fact,” he said. “The science is unequivocal and those who refuse to believe it are simply burying their heads in the sand.”
Meanwhile, John Kerry visited Southeast Asia’s largest mosque during his visit to Indonesia Sunday, paying tribute to Islam in the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation.
After removing his shoes outside the Istiqlal mosque in the heart of Jakarta, Kerry took a 20-minute tour through the vast building accompanied by grand imam Kyai al-Hajj Ali Mustafa Yaqub.
Calling it an “extraordinary place”, the top US diplomat told Indonesian reporters: “I am very privileged to be here and I am grateful to the grand imam for allowing me to come.” He then said in Arabic “As-salaam alai-kum” (peace be upon you), a greeting often used by Muslims around the world.
The administration of US President Barack Obama has worked hard to try to repair relations with the Muslim world, which were badly frayed under the previous administration with the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Obama, who spent part of his childhood in Jakarta, also visited the mosque in 2010 when he travelled to the archipelago. The United States and other Western powers have often referred to Indonesia - the world’s third biggest democracy - as a bridge to the Muslim world.
Ninety percent of Indonesia’s 250 million people identify themselves as Muslims. But the two-day visit that began on a colourful note may be marred by fresh spying allegations that emerged Sunday in a New York Times report.
The report said Australia offered intelligence to the US National Security Agency (NSA) to give Washington leverage during a trade dispute with Jakarta.
The report, based on leaked documents by former NSA analyst Edward Snowden, said that the Australian Signals Directorate offered the NSA information “including communications between Indonesian officials and the American law firm” that was representing Jakarta in the trade dispute.
Kerry and Indonesian officials have not commented on the issue, and US State Department officials declined to comment.
The secretary of state may have to answer questions, however, when he meets Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa for dinner Sunday.