Kerry on UN climate change report: 'Costs of inaction are catastrophic'

Lauren Schneiderman

The release of a United Nations report detailing the pervasive effects of climate change should serve as a call to action for the world’s nations to curb the emission of greenhouse gases, Secretary of State John Kerry argued Sunday night.

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In a statement issued by the State Department, Kerry called denial of climate change science “malpractice” and warned the “costs of inaction are catastrophic.”

“Read this report and you can't deny the reality: Unless we act dramatically and quickly, science tells us our climate and our way of life are literally in jeopardy,” Kerry said.

The document, issued by the United Nations's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), found that the sweeping effects of climate change were affecting every part of the globe.

The group of Nobel Prize-winning scientists warned that unless countries act quickly to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the rising sea would devastate costal areas, the world would suffer from widespread hunger due to droughts or flooding, and extreme storms could threaten infrastructure and emergency services.

“The clock is ticking,” Kerry said. “The more we delay, the greater the threat. Let's make our political system wake up and let's make the world respond.”

The 32-volume report warned that the United States was likely to see massive wildfires, while killer heat waves in Europe and sever droughts in Australia would threaten both human life and agriculture. It predicts poverty, sickness and violence will spike as weather events become more extreme.

"Nobody on this planet is going to be untouched by the impacts of climate change," IPCC Chairman Rajendra Pachauri told The Associated Press.

The White House echoed Kerry’s alarm bells in a statement from science and technology czar John Holdren, who said the report “highlights the widespread and substantial observed impacts of climate change, and its growing adverse effects on livelihoods, ecosystems, economies, and human health.”

“Climate change is a global threat, touching every region of the world and every sector of the economy,” he said.

The release of the report comes just days after the White House announced it was ordering federal agencies to take steps to cut methane emissions across the country. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is expected to develop a series of rules that would impose restrictions on hydraulic fractured oil wells, landfills and the natural gas industry. The Energy Department, Department of Agriculture and Bureau of Land Management will also propose voluntary actions for coal mines, dairy farms and other methane producers.

Republican lawmakers have been critical in the past of administration efforts to regulate methane, with Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) accusing the EPA of “a witch hunt to shut down hydraulic fracking.”

"All too often we see the Agency using flawed science for political purposes,” Vitter said. 

--This report was updated on Monday at 3:27 p.m.