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The Road Ahead

The next administration will be asked to undertake the tough work of remaking American foreign policy in the post-George Bush era. It's time we take the full measure of the 21st century threats we face.
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An old British Prime Minister was once asked what were the greatest challenges that a statesman faces. His response was simple: "Events, dear boy, events."

This week we got a tragic and searing reminder from Mumbai, India, of the scope and scale of the challenges that President-elect Obama, his team, and all of us will face in the months and years ahead.

The good news is that this week, Barack Obama passed his first test as President-elect. After ending the era of "my way or the highway" foreign policy on November 4, he put the nail in the coffin this week when he nominated a terrific, talented national security team of thinkers every bit as diverse as they are impressive. Whatever surprises the world holds for America, we can count on the efforts of an all-star team to respond - and deliver.

What we do know is that the next administration will be asked to undertake the tough work of remaking American foreign policy in the (long overdue) post-George Bush era. And as we rethink, it's time we finally take the full measure of the 21st century threats we face. While a previous generation's defining security "events" often came internationally--Roosevelt defeating Hitler, Kennedy standing down Khrushchev--today the very definition of national security is being rewritten to include threats that know no borders: global terror, global AIDS--lately--global finance.

These, too, are national security events to be reckoned with. These too will bear the kinds of surprises we once expected only from our Cold War adversaries. And none will be more global in its scope, more urgent in its stakes and timing, or more desperately in need of a complete policy overhaul than global climate change. As the incoming chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and an architect of the first climate change hearings with Al Gore back in 1988, I'm full of hope that we now stand on the precipice of a new bold era of environmental diplomacy.

Time is short. About seven weeks ago, we learned that carbon dioxide emissions are rising faster than even our leading experts predicted. The latest statistics show that global emissions rose 3% between 2005 and 2007. And while that may not sound like a huge increase, it is faster than the worst-case scenario predicted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Next week I'll heading to Poznan, Poland to head the US Congressional Delegation at talks on a new climate change treaty.

I head overseas with a simple message: America is back.

Back in 1988, we had to open the windows of a hearing room on a sweltering July day to make our fellow Senators feel the heat of our scientists' testimony. Today none other than the President-elect of the United States has said: "Now is the time to confront this challenge once and for all. Delay is no longer an option. Denial is no longer an acceptable response."

Since November 4, President-elect Obama has reiterated his commitment to the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions very significantly and invest $150 billion in new energy-saving technologies. He has also promised "vigorous" engagement with other countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Many skeptics may think that our own economic crisis ties our hands and means we cannot afford to fight climate change. The reality is just the opposite: we cannot afford not to. Just recently, our own government's National Intelligence Council noted that climate change will intensify food and water scarcity, serving as a threat multiplier around the globe.

The good news is that the road to salvation from our economic crisis runs through our environmental and energy needs. To avoid an economic meltdown, our economy needs a shot in the arm bigger than any of us could have imagined just a few short months ago, and there is no part of today's economy in greater need of transformation or with greater promise to kicking our economy back into gear than our energy sector. The International Energy Agency says the world needs to invest $45 trillion between now and 2025 to create clean, energy-efficient systems around the world. Experts tell us that, to ward off climate change, we need the green revolution to happen three times faster than the industrial revolution. This is a crisis, and here is our opportunity.

For years now, the world and the American people have been looking for real leadership on climate issues. For years we have watched as the country Lincoln called "the last best hope of earth" seemed like the last place on earth to get serious about climate change.

Well, here is our chance. Global climate change is an issue that knows no boundaries. It is also a golden opportunity for our country to show a new face to the world. This is our chance to lead again.

And as we do, we will need fresh voices and new ideas. For years we have fought for a security debate where "politics stops at the water's edge." We also need a debate that doesn't stop at Washington's edge. We need your help to end the tyranny of a calcified conventional wisdom that sometimes seems to prize playing it safe over the bold steps that would actually keep American's safe. We want your ideas, your input, your critique, and - when we have earned it--your support.

In a few short years, Huffington Post has become a vital clearinghouse for intrepid reporting, trenchant commentary, gossip, humor, and cutting-edge thinking. From Richard Clarke to Richard Lewis, you guys run the gamut and you do it well. I'll be bookmarking and reading it in the weeks and months ahead. I hope you'll do the same.

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