Tillerson On Climate Change: 'We’re Not Going to Rush to Make a Decision'

By Patrick Goodenough | May 12, 2017 | 4:26 AM EDT

 
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson speaks at an Arctic Council meeting in Fairbanks, Alaska, on Thursday, May 11, 2017. (Screenshot from State Department footage)

(CNSNews.com) – Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Thursday the Trump administration was in no rush to determine how to approach the issue of climate change, but would “make the right decision for the United States.”

He also assured other nations with territory lying within the Arctic Circle that the U.S. was taking time to understand their concerns on the matter.

“In the United States we are currently reviewing several important policies, including how the Trump administration will approach the issue of climate change,” Tillerson told fellow members of the Arctic Council, meeting in Fairbanks, Alaska.

“We are appreciative that each of you has an important point of view, and you should know that we are taking the time to understand your concerns,” he said.

“We’re not going to rush to make a decision,” he said. “We’re going to work to make the right decision for the United States. The Arctic Council will continue to be an important platform as we deliberate on these issues.”

For the past two years the U.S. has held the rotating chairmanship of the Arctic Council, whose other seven members are Canada, Russia, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Sweden and Norway. Finland will now assume the chair.

Uncertainty over how President Trump’s proposed climate policy changes may affect the work of the Arctic Council has hung over the meeting in Fairbanks.

Campaigning for the presidency, Trump promised to reverse Obama administration climate regulations aimed at curbing emissions of “greenhouse gases” blamed for climate change, with a goal of 26 to 28 percent reductions by 2025 – a process Trump has already begun

Trump also pledged to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement and to “cancel billions in global warming payments to the United Nations.”

A presidential decision on the future of the U.S. participation in the Paris accord is expected “sometime over the next couple of weeks,” the State Department’s assistant secretary for oceans and international environmental and scientific affairs, David Balton, told reporters before the meeting in Fairbanks began.

Balton also said climate change would continue to feature prominently in the council’s agenda:

“Anybody who spent time in or studying the Arctic knows that the region is warming, that climate change is a real issue here, and the Arctic Council has certainly been paying attention to it,” he said.

“Climate change has been an ongoing topic of interest for the Arctic Council for many chairmanships going back in time, and I foresee that it will continue to be one of the things the Arctic Council focuses on over the next few chairmanships,” Balton said.

“The U.S. will remain engaged in the work that the Arctic Council does on climate change throughout. I am very confident there will be no change in that regard.”

Indeed, a consensus statement agreed upon in Fairbanks on Thursday had a lot to say about climate change, stating that “the Arctic is warming at more than twice the rate of the global average” and calling climate change “the most serious threat to Arctic biodiversity.”

In the preamble, the declaration also noted “the entry into force of the Paris Agreement on climate change and its implementation, and reiterating the need for global action to reduce both long-lived greenhouse gases and short-lived climate pollutants.”

In another agreement reached Thursday, the eight countries agreed to facilitate access by scientists and their equipment and materials to identified Arctic areas and research facilities.

Balton explained earlier that there have been times in the past when scientists have struggled to get permission to cross international boundaries within the Arctic while conducting research.

The Arctic Council has existed since 1996 but only since 2011 has the U.S. sent a secretary of state to its deliberations, in recognition of the region’s growing strategic importance.

A 2008 U.S. Geological Survey study found that “the Arctic accounts for about 13 percent of the undiscovered oil, 30 percent of the undiscovered natural gas, and 20 percent of the undiscovered natural gas liquids in the world.”

The prospect of almost ice-free summers in the future means the region will become more accessible and navigable, raising concerns both about growing geopolitical competition and potential harm to sensitive ecosystems.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow