Weekly wrap: US may keep seat at climate table

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State department nominee Rex Tillerson was grilled by the senate foreign relations committee this week (Flickr/0105686)


In any normal week, the recently ex-boss of Exxon Mobil getting grilled by the senate foreign affairs committee over his Russia ties and views on climate change would be the biggest show in town.

Wednesday’s confirmation hearing for Rex Tillerson as US secretary of state, though, was up against (perhaps not coincidentally) president-elect Donald Trump’s first press conference in months.

In case you were distracted by the circus, Tillerson’s key line was that the US should “maintain a seat at the table” for international climate discussions.

That suggests he would keep the US in the Paris Agreement, contrary to Trump’s threat to “cancel” it. Tillerson left wiggle room, though, for the administration to set a different “table”.

And he showed no appetite for leading efforts to implement the pact, instead framing his role as defending American interests against threats to its competitiveness. See Karl Mathiesen’s live blog for the full story.

Your say

Barack Obama’s most enduring climate legacy will be in China. That was the key message to emerge from our reader survey. While his successor prepares to overturn many of the outgoing US president’s domestic initiatives, Obama’s charm offensive in Beijing continues to bear fruit. Look out for our three-part series next week exploring Obama’s record.

A coalition of 630 big businesses reminded Trump and Tillerson that America’s interests are not the same thing as Exxon’s interests.

Nike, Mars and Starbucks were among members of sustainability network Ceres calling on the new administration to preserve low carbon policies and boost green investment.

The ways big oil interests could conflict with the chief diplomat’s role are many and various. Not least that, as Karl revealed, at the state department Tillerson could let Exxon off the hook for a long-running human rights case.

Barack Obama himself made the case for clean energy as a boon to competitiveness in a scholarly article for Science. “This should not be a partisan issue,” the outgoing president insisted. Ah, the audacity of hope.

Spin class

Across the pond, UK climate minister Nick Hurd had an upbeat take on international carbon cutting efforts in the age of Trump, drawing a cycling analogy:

“Think of long distance bicycle races in Olympics – we are seeing the formation of a large peloton.

“It’s important that major economies are in front but if the reality is the US slips back a bit that’s not the end of the world if the peloton is continuing to press on in broadly same pace.”

At the same time, his department came under fire for plans to flog its flagship Green Investment Bank to Australia’s Macquarie, a notorious asset-stripper. Ed King explained the controversy.

Clean money

For those investors seeking to climate-proof their portfolios, help is at hand. The Church of England has launched a tool to track the climate risk exposure of carbon-intensive businesses.

The consultation is still open for Mark Carney and Mike Bloomberg’s taskforce recommendations on mainstreaming the issue across the finance sector. Tim Crosland of NGO Plan B picked out some flaws.

Davos outlook

Climate change is high on the agenda for bigwigs descending on Davos for the World Economic Forum next week.

Its annual risk report flagged extreme weather, water shortages, natural disasters and a failure to prepare for climate change as four of the five highest impact threats to the global economy in 2017.

Incoming UN chief Antonio Guterres also identified tackling climate change as a key part of his conflict prevention strategy.

Quick hits

Fossil fuel subsidies: China emerges as green reformer in vast study
Shipping: UN maritime body rejects EU climate initiative
US: Government report opens door for climate geoengineering research
BNEF: Global clean energy investments fell in 2016
Migration: South Asia’s women suffer as climate migration rises
Philippines: Manila to ratify Paris climate deal by July

Read more on: Climate politics