Tillerson signs declaration stressing climate change threat

Trump Admin guts Obama-era climate regulations
Trump Admin guts Obama-era climate regulations

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Story highlights

  • Trump might put out of Paris Agreement on climate change
  • Tillerson said administration will not "rush" into a decision

(CNN)Secretary of State Rex Tillerson signed an international declaration highlighting the importance of the Paris Agreement in tackling climate change Thursday, even as the Trump administration considers withdrawing from the agreement.

The Fairbanks Declaration was adopted at the meeting by the members of the Arctic Council, which includes countries with territory in the Arctic such as the United States. It states that "the Arctic is warming at more than twice the rate of the global average, resulting in widespread social, environmental, and economic impacts in the Arctic and worldwide," and points to "the pressing and increasing need for mitigation and adaptation actions and to strengthen resilience."
The declaration further recognizes "the need for global action to reduce both long-lived greenhouse gases and short-lived climate pollutants."
But even as Tillerson -- who chaired the council meeting -- approved the measure, his boss Donald Trump is weighing whether to abandon the landmark Paris Agreement, which requires participating countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Sources told CNN that Trump is increasingly unsure how withdrawing from the Paris climate accord would affect the United States, both legally and in its dealings with foreign leaders -- several whom are actively lobbying the administration to stay in the deal.
He initially planned to make a final decision on the agreement before attending the G7 summit later this month, but postponed that deadline at Tillerson's request, a White House official told CNN earlier this week.
In his opening remarks at the Arctic Council meeting on Thursday, Tillerson acknowledged the US government is "currently reviewing several important policies, including how the Trump administration will approach the issue of climate change," but insisted the administration would not "rush" to decide.
"We are appreciative that each of you has an important point of view," he said. "And you should know that we are taking the time to understand your concerns."
A State Department official downplayed the significance of the administration's decision to sign the Fairbanks Declaration.
"The Fairbanks Declaration notes what Paris claims to be," the official emphasized, "it does not obligate the United States to enforce it."
Tillerson, a former oil executive, has long acknowledged the threat posed by climate change, but has been more reluctant to attribute the phenomenon to human activity.
In his confirmation hearing earlier this year, he told senators he supports US participation in the Paris Agreement, saying, "I think we're better served by being at that table than leaving that table."
Trump, for his part, has voiced skepticism about climate change, which he's referred to in the past as a "Chinese hoax."
On the campaign trail, he said he would "cancel" US participation in the accord. But in an interview with The New York Times shortly after the election, Trump said he was still developing a position on the Paris Agreement.
"I have an open mind to it," he said. "We're going to look very carefully."