Mark Twain once joked: "Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it." But with the onset of global warming, it is time for action.
The scientific evidence is clear: man-made emissions are harming our planet. Climate change will alter growing seasons, redistribute natural resources, lift sea levels and shift other fundamental building blocks of economic, social and political arrangements around the world.
With those shifts will come political conflict, migrating populations, the spread of disease -- threats to international stability.
The leaders from 189 nations are meeting in Montreal to discuss new plans for combating global warming. Unfortunately, the Bush administration has decided to sit on the sidelines while other countries determine where our global environmental policy is headed.
Since 2001, President George W. Bush's policy on climate change has been to go it alone. He withdrew the US from the Kyoto protocol to the United Nations framework convention on climate change and left us out of discussions on its implementation. Under the protocol, industrial nations committed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by an average of 5.0 per cent below 1990 levels. The US is the only big industrial nation that is not a signatory to this international agreement.
The US should return to the international process of protecting our global environment from climate change. This is not just about the environment, it is also about our economic and national security.
The challenge to find cleaner, more efficient sources of energy offers us one of the great opportunities of this new century. By moving us toward greater energy independence, lowering our energy costs and promoting new products and markets, a well-designed climate policy can create jobs and enhance economic growth.
Time is not on our side when it comes to climate change. Recently, a group of international researchers discovered there is more carbon dioxide, the gas that fuels global warming, in the atmosphere today than at any point during the past 650,000 years.
The sources of greenhouse gas emissions are global. Meeting the challenge of climate change will require an international response. That means we must continue to talk with other nations about the weather.
However, we need to make sure that talk is not a substitute for action. The real question is: what kind of talk will lead to action?
Last month, I joined Dick Lugar, the Indiana Republican senator and chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, in calling on the Bush administration to return the US to international negotiations on climate change.
Our climate change resolution would also establish a bipartisan Senate observer group to monitor talks and ensure that our negotiators bring back agreements that all Americans can support.
Without an international consensus, there is no way to stabilise global greenhouse gases before irreparable harm is done. To undertake meaningful reductions, countries need to know that their actions will not be undercut by "free riders" who continue business as usual while they commit to change.
Building that trust will require commitments by all of the key players and institutions to co-ordinate the actions of independent nations.
As the largest emitter of greenhouse gases, the US has a responsibility to take action. Our refusal to even discuss the next steps beyond Kyoto is not acceptable and gives other nations an excuse to maintain the status quo.
As the ice caps melt, sea levels rise and deserts grow, it is clear that we must change course.
We need to rethink the path forward to make room for the very different histories and circumstances that countries bring to these talks. That will require flexibility and openness on all sides.
But first, we need to get back to the negotiating table. Without US leadership and participation, there is no way to stabilise global greenhouse gases before irreparable harm is done. (The writer is the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; he and Richard Lugar (Republican), the committee's chairman, co-authored the Lugar-Biden Climate Change Resolution urging the Bush administration to participate in new climate negotiations.
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