US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has defended President Donald Trump’s decision to pull the US from the Paris Climate Accord, saying the global agreement was not in the best interests of the American people.
He sought to play down fears the US would not play a role reducing greenhouse gas emissions, raising an “extraordinary” track record which he claimed included US emissions having already fallen to 1990s levels. “We have every expectation that record of performance is going to continue.”
Tillerson made the comments while in Wellington during a quick fly-in-fly-out meeting with Prime Minister Bill English. Talking about their discussions, English said he had raised New Zealand’s opposition to the US Paris decision.
Tillerson was then asked by media about moves by Trump to pull out of the Climate Accord and Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, and how countries like New Zealand could continue to trust the US to lead on such issues without embarking on a protectionist and isolationist direction.
The Secretary of State disagreed with the assertion that Trump’s moves to withdraw from both were unpredictable. Indeed, Trump had run for office on these two policies, he said. “I think he did take time and make very deliberative decisions to finally take action on both of those fronts.”
The moves “clearly” represented the will of the American people, Tillerson claimed, citing “very little” Congressional support for them. “I think in both cases the President was quite clear that he took these actions because he viewed they were not in the best interest of the American people and our own future prosperity.”
Having said that, “on both issues the President and the United States has every intention of being directly engaged on trade relationships and indeed the process of discussions on a bilateral basis is already underway with some countries in the region and that will continue in the days and years ahead,” Tillerson said.
On Paris, Tillerson said he thought Trump “felt this was just simply not an agreement that served the American peoples’ interest well. Having said that, as he made that decision I think he made clear that he welcomes the opportunity to talk about a subsequent agreement.”
The United States had “an extraordinary record of reducing greenhouse gas emissions” that was “possibly unparalleled by anyone else,” Tillerson said. “Our greenhouse gas emissions are at levels that were last seen in the 1990s. That’s been done with 50 million more energy consumers than we had in the 90s, with an economy that’s twice as large,” he said.
“We’re very proud of the record of reducing our own greenhouse gas emissions, and that’s been done without a Paris Climate Accord. It’s been done without heavy-handed regulation; it’s been built on technology and innovation and entrepreneurship.
“We have every expectation that record of performance is going to continue. There’s no reason it would stop just because we withdrew from the Paris Climate Accord. So we do believe that engagement globally continues to be important on the issue of climate change, and we will be seeking ways to remain engaged,” Tillerson said.
There were many ways the US could remain engaged, including through the UN-intergovernmental panel on change as well as through economic and trade forms. “I don’t think anyone should interpret that the US has somehow stepped away from these issues, or is seeking to isolate itself,” Tillerson said.