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Trump nominee voices support for climate talks

09 May 2017 18:45 (+01:00 GMT)
Trump nominee voices support for climate talks

Washington, 9 May (Argus) — President Donald Trump's nominee for deputy secretary of state, John Sullivan, said he would prefer the US to stay in global climate talks.

"My view as a general matter is that the US is best served and protected when it has a seat at the table," Sullivan told members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at his confirmation hearing today. But he acknowledged that the administration has not finalized its position on future climate talks, or the future of the US' remaining a party to the Paris climate agreement.

"There is an ongoing discussion within the administration as these are complex issues," Sullivan said. A provision in the Paris agreement — Article 4.11 — that allows any country "at any time to adjust its existing nationally determined contribution with a view to enhancing its level of ambition" is among key issues debated internally, he said.

US opponents of the agreement say the provision would not prevent other countries from scaling down their commitments under the agreement and placing the US in a less competitive position. The view is not shared widely within the US government. "My sense is that [foreign governments] are certainly committed to staying in the Paris agreement and see that as an important international accord," deputy assistant secretary of state David Balton said yesterday.

Trump during his presidential campaign pledged to pull out of the Paris agreement, but his administration appears to be split on whether and how to implement the pledge. US secretary of state Rex Tillerson, like Sullivan, advocates remaining engaged in climate talks. White House lead strategist Steve Bannon and Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt want the US to leave the agreement. Energy secretary Rick Perry has suggested the administration should renegotiate the agreement.

The White House National Security Council debated the subject late last month without any results. The White House said Trump will finalize his position by the 26-27 May summit of G7 heads of governments in Sicily.

Pulling out of the agreement would pit the US against its G7 partners, which have been urging Trump to remain engaged in climate talks. Lack of clarity in the US position led EU energy and climate commissioner Miguel Arias Canete to postpone his visit to Washington this week.

But Washington points out that the US already has reduced its greenhouse gas emissions as a result of a reduced use of coal. Natural gas last year overtook coal as the top generating fuel. US energy-related CO2 emissions have fallen by 15pc since 2005, according to the US Energy Information Administration.

Industry and environmental groups sought to sway Trump's view. Apple, Google, California utility Pacific Gas & Electric and two dozen other major companies took out a full-page ad in major newspapers calling for Trump to protect US economic interests by staying in the agreement. On the other side, 40 free-market groups, including the Competitive Enterprise Institute, released a letter urging Trump to leave the Paris agreement to protect the US from what they see as burdensome climate regulations.

"Europe and other countries have warned the Trump administration that abandoning the Paris agreement could lead to carbon tariffs on US goods," Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) said yesterday. "That is why hundreds of American companies support the climate agreement."

ExxonMobil, BP, ConocoPhillips and Shell have urged the administration to stay in the Paris agreement. Chevron remains noncommittal.