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Kerry: U.S. Must Lead on Climate Change

It has been three months since President Barack Obama and the United States took an important step toward leading the world in developing the Copenhagen Accord, a breakthrough new global agreement among almost 120 nations, including China and the developing world, to reduce emissions, increase transparency and support international climate change investments.

At its foundation is a new economic reality that the leaders of the 21st century will be those committed to clean energy economies.

The United States, with our innovative spirit and entrepreneurial vitality, is positioned to lead the way — if we seize the opportunity staring us in the face.

In the coming weeks the Senate will have a historic opportunity to debate legislation that will make our way easier. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Obama are committed to make this the year that the United States finally passes comprehensive clean energy and climate legislation. Further delay would only exacerbate the risk of falling behind in the emerging global competition for clean energy jobs, manufacturing and markets. The bipartisan legislation that Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.) and I have been working to complete presents an opportunity that we cannot afford to miss.

We begin not just by curbing man-made carbon emissions that are contributing to climate change at an alarming rate but by also establishing incentives for private investment in clean energy technology industries. Over the next 10 years, those investments can create as many as 1.9 million jobs, increase household incomes by up to $1,175 a year and boost the gross domestic product as much as $111 billion.

This is a national security imperative. And, as we make the transition to a clean energy economy, we will reduce our dependence on foreign energy sources, a dependence that now takes almost $500 billion a year out of our economy — about $1,400 a year for every man, woman and child in America — and ships it to too many countries that don’t share our values. In the long run, it imposes an onerous and unsustainable burden on the men and women of our armed forces who are deployed to protect our national security.

As a bedrock global economic issue, the alarm bells are just as compelling: Other countries are rushing ahead while policymakers in the United States try to reach a consensus on how to proceed forward to an economy fueled by clean and sustainable energy sources. China, in particular, is moving rapidly to become the leader of the global clean energy economy. The Chinese just raised auto efficiency standards to 36.7 miles per gallon, higher than our new target for 2016. Today its renewable capacity is only 2 percent less than the United States, and it is set to grow rapidly from almost 10 percent of its energy use to 15 percent by 2020. And last year, for the first time, Chinese investment in renewable energy exceeded ours, skyrocketing 50 percent.

The clean energy industry is still in its infancy in the United States and yet already relatively substantial in its size — with 770,000 jobs (and growing three times faster than jobs in general), venture capital exceeding $12 billion and public investments of $85 billion in direct spending and tax credits. A comprehensive national strategy for a clean energy future would produce explosive economic growth — at a time when America needs it most. And just as importantly, it will put our country on the path to sustainable long-term economic growth.

We have not lost our ability to take on big challenges. We have acted boldly in every crisis that we have faced as a nation. The New Deal helped lift America from the depths of the Great Depression in the 1930s. The Marshall Plan helped restore stability in Europe in the 1940s and ’50s. The Apollo Project put a man on the moon in the 1960s. And the Pentagon’s ARPANET program formed the backbone of the Internet that spawned the information and technology boom of the ’90s.

For nearly half a century, we were willing to pay any price and bear any burden to win the Cold War. The threat from Soviet nuclear warheads was a clear and present danger in our lives.

Just as clear and present is the danger climate change poses to our economy and national security. We cannot drill and burn our way out of danger. But we can invent and invest our way out of it by leveraging a shift to a clean energy economy that will allow America to do what America always does best — lead the way into the future.

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) is chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee.

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