State Department officials bristle at Tillerson’s promises on climate

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson today vowed to ensure that this fall’s major U.N. summit on climate change will “end on a high note.” But he won’t specifically commit to “no-notice, binding” carbon reductions,…

State Department officials bristle at Tillerson’s promises on climate

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson today vowed to ensure that this fall’s major U.N. summit on climate change will “end on a high note.” But he won’t specifically commit to “no-notice, binding” carbon reductions, even though President Trump has withdrawn the U.S. from the Paris Agreement.

“We’re committed to gathering momentum so that no one returns home from this COP with the real intention to do nothing,” Tillerson said. “To make sure they bring their parities and the world with them to the table [to discuss] true action on climate change.”

Then, at the same event, when asked to provide specific measurements that would indicate U.S. commitment to addressing climate change, he said that “we intend to have very strong, viable targets.”

Critics argue that Tillerson’s ambiguous rhetoric about climate change comes off as just another empty promise and underscores the threat that the president’s climate-denying policies pose to long-term U.S. global influence. “There isn’t a little bit of Trump running this, and that’s going to hurt the United States on the climate change front,” said Matthew Branagh, the U.S. chair of the Climate Action Network, who was at the event with Tillerson. “This is not a one-person show, this is not a small group making the decisions. This is about the Trump administration saying, ‘we are running our foreign policy on behalf of the United States.’ ”

It is a far cry from Tillerson’s predecessor, the up-and-coming climate policy dove John Kerry, who in 2015 announced the U.S. would try to renegotiate portions of the Paris climate agreement that might be beneficial to American industry. Tillerson’s approach resembles former President Barack Obama’s pledge to work toward implementation of a new global carbon emissions treaty without an accord-breaking country like the U.S.

Opponents to the Paris agreement, most of whom hailed Trump’s decision to pull out of the agreement, have been pressuring the administration to return to negotiating the document without the participation of the U.S. It is unclear what’s in the pipeline at this stage, but Trump’s pick to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, said Monday that “we do need to be in the deal.”

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