FAIRBANKS, United States: US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson warned the governments and peoples of the Arctic on Thursday (Friday in Manila) that President Donald Trump will put America first when it comes to climate change.
Representatives from the eight nations with territory in the great white north and the indigenous peoples who make their homes there had come to Alaska looking for reassurance.
Trump campaigned for office warning that he may pull the United States out of the 2015 Paris accord and he has already launched a review of Washington’s policy towards climate change.
The Arctic countries have borne the brunt of global warming so far, with glaciers and sea ice in retreat and threats to both the wildlife and the native peoples’s way of life.
Tillerson told the meeting of the Arctic Council in Fairbanks, Alaska that the region’s views would be taken into account, but that Washington’s policy will be based on US interests.
“In the United States, we are currently reviewing several important policies, including how the Trump administration will approach the issue of climate change,” Tillerson said.
“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 promised.
“We’re not going to rush to make a decision. We’re going to work to make the right decision for the United States.”
The Fairbanks meeting of the Council came after the White House said this week that Trump will not decide on climate change policy until after a trip to Europe later this month.
Hanging in the balance is the future of the Paris accord, which campaigners, experts and most governments see as the last best hope of slowing global warming.
But many of Trump’s advisers—along with energy industry lobbyists—argue the accord puts the brakes on oil and coal-driven industries and hurts jobs growth.
Under the deal, signed by Washington under former president Barack Obama, more than 190 countries set themselves goals to minimize carbon emissions and mitigate the effects of climate change.
If the United States, by most measures the world’s second-biggest polluter, were to pull out or reduce its goals, efforts to reduce the global temperature increase might fail.
‘Paris is the cornerstone’
The joint declaration adopted by the eight-nation Arctic Council simply noted “the entry into force of the Paris Agreement on climate change and its implementation.”
But it did not recommit council members, including the United States, to meeting the accord’s emissions reduction pledges.
At Thursday’s meeting, Tillerson passed the gavel and the two-year rotating leadership of the council switched from the United States to Finland.
And the incoming chair, Finland’s Foreign Minister Timo Soini, said the Paris accord and the United Nations 2030 goals for sustainable development would guide the council’s work.
“The Paris climate agreement is the cornerstone for mitigating climate change,” Soini said.
His remarks were applauded by delegates and welcomed by leaders from several Arctic indigenous nations, which are represented on the 20-year-old council alongside the eight governments.
Local Alaskans who spoke to AFP before the council meeting in the former gold prospecting town of Fairbanks were unanimous that temperatures are rising.