Former Vice President Al Gore has urged U.S. lawmakers to enact legislation on climate change before a U.N. summit on the issue late this year in Copenhagen.  He testified before the Senate Foreign Relations committee in Washington, calling for America to resume a leadership role on the climate crisis under President Barack Obama.  

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee's new chairman, John Kerry said it is no accident that he asked Mr. Gore to testify at the committee's first hearing.  Senator Kerry said climate change will be increasingly central to U.S. foreign policy and national security under the Obama administration.

"We are here today for the same reason our top military leaders and intelligence officials have been sounding the alarms.  They describe climate change as a threat multiplier and they are warning that the cost of ignoring this issue will be more famine, more drought, more widespread pandemics, more natural disasters, more resource scarcity and human displacement on a massive scale," said Kerry.

Mr. Gore, the winner of a Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 for his environmental efforts, said he is optimistic about President Obama's ability to actually get something done on climate change.

"The Obama administration has already signaled a strong willingness to regain U.S. leadership on the global stage in the treaty talks, reversing years of inaction.  This is critical to success in Copenhagen and is clearly a top priority of the administration," said Gore.

As he has done in his travels across the world, Gore showed the panel some charts and pictures to illustrate the urgency of the climate crisis.  He pointed out that the island nation of the Maldives is now looking to purchase territory to re-locate its entire population because of rising water levels.  

Gore also showed a chart that he said documents that there have been four times more worldwide major weather-related disasters in the past 30 years than in the previous 75.

Republican members of the panel also said urgent action must be be taken.  Republican Senator Richard Lugar said environmentally sound policies do not necessarily mean economic sacrifice.

"The United States should recognize that steps to address climate change involve economic opportunities and not just constraints.  Thanks to new technology we can control many greenhouse gases with proactive, pro-growth solutions," Lugar said.

Former vice president Gore said Washington must negotiate a new global climate treaty with other countries at the U.N. meeting in Denmark this year, not next year.  

The United States is the only industrialized country that refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, an international climate accord that expires in 2012.  Gore said that the landscape has shifted since Kyoto, with China now the world's top emitter of greenhouse gases and developing countries now much more willing to be part of a global solution.