- - Monday, May 29, 2017

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Imagine if Secretary of State Rex Tillerson were to have told the members of the Arctic Council meeting in Fairbanks, Alaska on May 11, “The United States does not support the hypothesis that our greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are causing dangerous climate change. Consequently, while we welcome your input to our policymaking process, I must make it clear: we are ending U.S. government participation in all programs, domestic and international, aimed at climate change mitigation.”

Such a statement would be consistent with President Donald Trump’s election promise to “cancel the Paris Climate Agreement and stop all payments of U.S. tax dollars to U.N. global warming programs.” It would also be scientifically justified. No one knows the future of climate change, let alone that our GHG emissions are problematic.

There would, of course, be an outcry from the press, politicians, environmental activists, and scientists and industries on the global warming gravy train. “Trump is destroying our children’s world!” would be the clarion call. “The U.S. must support international efforts to save the planet!”

Perhaps that is why Mr. Tillerson made no such announcement. Instead, on behalf of America, he signed the Fairbanks Declaration that asserts:

•Noting with concern 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 the pressing and increasing need for mitigation ,

•Noting the entry into force of the Paris Agreement on climate change and its implementation, and reiterating the need for global action to reduce both long-lived greenhouse gases and short-lived climate pollutants,

•Noting with concern that the pace and scale of continuing Arctic warming will depend on future emissions of greenhouse gases and short-lived climate pollutants.

And so on. Yet we do not properly understand what is happening in the Arctic. On May 15, the U.N. weather agency announced a two-year program to gather data about Earth’s polar areas and stated, “The Arctic and Antarctic are currently among the world’s most poorly observed regions.” Regardless, these Fairbanks Declaration statements are the exact opposite of the Trump administration’s supposed position on climate change.

It is not as if the U.S. were a minor bystander at this, the 10th Arctic Council Ministerial Meeting. Tillerson hosted the Fairbanks meeting as Chair of the Council. Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chystia Freeland praised Tillerson’s efforts on climate change, saying that he played a “strong and positive role in getting to a public declaration that we were all able to sign, which includes very clear recognition of the Paris agreement.”

So what is going on here? Is Mr. Trump changing sides on the climate issue again? After all, it was less than eight years ago that he signed an open letter supporting President Barack Obama’s efforts “to ensure meaningful and effective measures to control climate change.” Published in The New York Times on Dec. 6, 2009, the letter from Mr. Trump and the other industry leaders claimed that, “If we fail to act now, it is scientifically irrefutable that there will be catastrophic and irreversible consequences for humanity and our planet.”

Yielding to political correctness on climate change is something opportunistic conservative politicians do often. Perhaps the most extreme example was former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Like Mr. Trump, Mr. Harper campaigned against the climate scare, speaking out against what he had previously labeled “a socialist scheme to suck money out of wealth-producing nations.”

But after forming a minority government in 2006, Mr. Harper sabotaged grass-roots supporters who had brought him election success. He started to promote the U.N. approach to global warming and wasted billions of dollars on the issue. Yet most Canadian conservatives remained quiet, apparently thinking it inappropriate to publicly pressure ‘their man in power.’ Surely Harper was just being politically strategic. He would come around to a more sensible approach to climate change when he had a majority government, many people believed.

But he never did. Even after winning a majority in 2011, the first center-right majority Canadian government in 23 years, Mr. Harper continued to promote action to ‘stop climate change.’ Without significant pressure from conservatives in his base, he yielded to the loud arguments of progressives.

In 2015 Mr. Harper lost to Justin Trudeau’s Liberals who boost climate action even more strongly. Now, virtually no Canadian politician dares to express a realistic view of climate change.

Will Republicans repeat this mistake with Mr. Trump? Marc Morano, publisher of the influential Washington DC-based Climatedepot.com fears that is the case. “It seems that the Fairbanks Declaration was Tillerson testing how far he can push,” said Mr. Morano. “And given all of the disastrous distractions the Trump administration is currently undergoing, Mr. Tillerson likely will be able to push all the way to staying in the U.N.Paris agreement.”

Mr. Morano, also the author of a new report offering “talking points” on global warming for policymakers who contest the climate scare, concluded, “The administration is not seizing the moment on the Paris Agreement and few conservatives are holding them to account. If we don’t get rid of Paris now, we may never get rid of it and it may strengthen during next presidency.”

Canadian conservatives had their chance to end our participation in U.N. climate schemes, but they blew it. Is the U.S. next?

• Tom Harris is executive director of the Ottawa, Canada-based International Climate Science Coalition.

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