Arctic Council Pressures Tillerson To Take Action On Climate Change

May 12, 2017
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

As the Trump administration debates whether to pull out of the Paris Climate Accord, other countries are weighing in. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson got an earful when he met with members of the Arctic Council in Fairbanks, Alaska, yesterday. Rachel Waldholz of Alaska Public Media was there.

RACHEL WALDHOLZ, BYLINE: The Arctic Council takes a keen interest in climate change, and some members have been worried about a possible U.S. withdrawal from the Paris agreement. Tillerson tackled the issue head-on. He told members the administration heard their concerns.

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REX TILLERSON: We're not going to rush to make a decision. We're going to work to make the right decision for the United States.

WALDHOLZ: Arctic Council members took the opportunity to press for action on climate change. The foreign minister of Finland said going green is good business. Ethel Blake, who represents indigenous Gwich'in people in the U.S. and Canada, warned that rapid warming in the Arctic threatens their way of life.

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ETHEL BLAKE: We strongly believe that without significant, sustained and coordinated approaches our culture cannot survive.

WALDHOLZ: Swedish foreign minister Margot Wallstrom asked, what if our planet had a seat at the table?

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FOREIGN MINISTER MARGOT WALLSTROM: Perhaps our planet would say, I've been your best friend since the Industrial Revolution. I have tried to keep Greenland and the permafrost in Siberia intact, and I have sent you no invoices. But it is about to change.

WALDHOLZ: Michael Sfraga of the Wilson Center says if the U.S. exits Paris, it may undermine its influence in a region that's becoming more important as sea ice retreats and shipping routes open.

MICHAEL SFRAGA: I think it would minimize our ability to engage on a lot of levels.

WALDHOLZ: Despite the uncertainty over American policy, All eight nations agreed to try to reduce emissions of methane and black carbon, major contributors to warming in the Arctic. For NPR News, I'm Rachel Waldholz in Fairbanks.

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MARTIN: That story comes to us from Alaska's Energy Desk, a public media collaboration focused on energy and the environment. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.