Where's the Real Cost of Climate Change?

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U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry says it's time to have a frank conversation about climate issues, putting the matter on the same footing as weapons of mass destruction. The real threat, however, may be in the form of recession fatigue.

"Climate change can now be considered another weapon of mass destruction, perhaps the world's most fearsome weapon of mass destruction," Kerry said Sunday from Jakarta.

Extreme and frequent winter snow storms pummeled most of the eastern half of the United States this year, while Britons dealt with historic rains and heavy flooding. The Met Office, the United Kingdom's national weather service, said there's no definitive link between climate change and recent weather events, but remarked meteorological patterns are "consistent with what is expected from the fundamental physics of a warming world."

Last year, the World Meteorological Organization said the burning of fossil fuels was driving the warming effect on the climate. For the International Energy Agency, the embrace of renewable energy isn't warm enough. While some parts of the green equation, like solar energy, have advanced more than expected, the agency said we're missing the larger sectorwide picture.

"We must invest heavily in infrastructure that improves the system as a whole," IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven said. "Together with industry and consumers, we can put the energy system on track to a sustainable and secure energy future."

Kerry, who took up the climate mantle in Indonesia, said moving ahead under the business-as-usual model poses a threat to the human population. Half of Jakarta could be underwater by the end of the century, he said, unless something drastic happens and fast.

"The fact is that climate change, if left unchecked, will wipe out many more communities from the face of the earth," he said. "And that is unacceptable under any circumstances -- but is even more unacceptable because we know what we can do and need to do in order to deal with this challenge."

Acknowledging the challenge and dealing with it, however, may be mutually exclusive. On Monday, the Australian government said it would review its renewable energy targets amid growing concerns about the high cost of greener energy. In the European Union, once at the forefront of the renewable energy debate, eastern member states have their own economic concerns, which may impede progress on new renewable benchmarks for 2030.

While the IEA said the cost of renewable energy is getting lower, that's not enough incentive for economies still coping with the Great Recession. It may be up to policymakers like Kerry to show that it's climate change itself, however, that has the "very hefty price tag."

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