02/18/2014 05:34 pm ET Updated Apr 20, 2014

'The Future We Seek, As Always, Must Be Earned'

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has issued a clarion call for immediate action on climate change. Speaking in Jakarta on Sunday, he described it as a threat on par with terrorism: "Perhaps the world's most fearsome weapon of mass destruction."

His political call to arms came a few days after the U.S. joined forces with China to lead the charge against global warming.

Responsible for over 40 percent of all greenhouse gases, the world's two largest economies have pledged to produce "concrete results" ahead of next year's critical climate talks in Paris:

In light of the overwhelming scientific consensus on climate change, the United States and China recognize the urgent need for action. Both sides reaffirm their commitment to contribute significantly to successful 2015 global efforts to meet this challenge.

World leaders have vowed to rein in their emissions by 2020.

But, efforts to strike a deal have been plagued by discord and acrimony as nations across the globe bicker over who should bear the brunt of the cuts.

Analysts now hope that commitment by the world's two largest emitters will pave the way towards a strong accord in 2015.

The pledge came a few days after U.S. president Barack Obama urged all nations to work towards an "ambitious and inclusive" agreement in an op-ed penned in the Washington Post with his French counterpart, Francis Hollande.

Having never ratified the previous Kyoto protocol, the move marks a sea change for the U.S.

It comes 16 months after Americans got a bitter taste of what global warming will look like in the future.

Superstorm Sandy unleashed over $60 billion in damages as it tore across the northeastern seaboard in 2012 to leave much of New York City submerged under water.

Creating scenes reminiscent of an apocalyptic disaster, Sandy marked a time when the climate crisis became real for many Americans.

Renewed efforts by the U.S. and China come five months after the United Nations warned that our planet is warming much faster than expected: global temperatures may now rise by up to 2 degrees celsius within the next few decades, climbing up to the 4C mark by the end of this century.

Widely regarded as the upper safe limit, 2 degrees of warming will usher in changes not seen for some 115,000 years.

According to Lord Nicholas Stern, author of a landmark paper on the economics of climate change, such a temperature rise will lead to conflict and war as sea levels rise by five meters, and millions of people lose their homes.

Such news does not bode well for island nations such as the U.K.

Experiencing its own punishing brush with climate change, Britain is bracing itself for more storms as it enters its fourth week of extreme floods.

Described by the army as an "unparalleled natural disaster," the deluge is expected to cost up to 3 billion pounds.

According to scientists, even if all the rain stopped today, flood waters would continue to rise for another two months. The British Geological Survey says that up to 1.6 million properties in England and Wales are at risk.

"We need to adapt. What is happening now relates to what we were doing two decades ago [in increasing greenhouse gas emissions]," says Caroline Spelman, former environment secretary for the Conservative party.

The British floods come just four months after one of the most powerful storms in history struck the Philippines.

Typhoon Haiyan killed nearly 6,000 people as it ripped through the archipelago last October. Caused by warmer weather over the Pacific, it was the third superstorm to terrorize the country last year.

Once regarded as black swans, such events are slowly becoming part of the new normal for life on a warmer planet. And, they will only get worse as the atmosphere heats up.

Earlier this month, the head of the International Monetary Fund warned that our world is "perilously close" to a dangerous tipping point which will usher in "merciless" climate change.

And, according to professor Christopher Field from Stanford University, the speed of change will "be at least 10 times faster than at any time since the age of the dinosaurs."

Writing in the Guardian last week, Lord Stern urged world leaders to act more quickly:

History teaches us how quickly industrial transformations can occur. We are already seeing low-carbon technologies being deployed across the world, but further progress will require investment. Unfortunately, the current pace of progress is not nearly rapid enough.

The head of the World Bank has called on governments to "put a price on pollution." Speaking at the World Economic Forum last month, Jim Yong Kim insisted on ending all fossil fuel subsidies.

Echoing similar efforts by Lord Stern, Kim said that such funds should be plowed into the clean energy sector instead: "This challenges the notion that responding to climate change is not affordable."

In the words of Obama and Hollande: "The challenges of our time cannot be wished away. The future we seek, as always, must be earned." As Plato wrote some 2,000 years ago: "Let us begin now, for the true creator is necessity, the mother of all inventions." The alternative: a fate similar to that of the dinosaurs.