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Tillerson Signs Arctic Climate Change Declaration

| by Robert Fowler

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson signed an international declaration acknowledging the impact of climate change on the Arctic and a need to address greenhouse gases. The document does not bind the U.S. to taking any action on curbing carbon emissions.

On May 11, Tillerson added his signature to a document endorsed by seven nations bordering the Arctic during a council meeting in Fairbanks, Alaska. The declaration, which calls for action to blunt the thawing of the Arctic, was dubbed the Fairbanks Declaration.

The document reads "the Arctic is warming at more than twice the rate of the global average, resulting in widespread social, environmental, and economic impacts."

The statement urges "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."

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The administration of President Donald Trump had not indicated whether it would continue honoring the Paris Climate Agreement, an international accord that obligates participating countries to take concrete steps to reduce their carbon emissions output.

Trump was a vocal climate skeptic before taking office, previously describing the science as a hoax.

"The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive," Trump tweeted out in November 2012.

On May 10, Chairman Victor Joseph of the Tanana Chief Conference, representing the native tribes living along the Arctic, urged Tillerson to sign the declaration as an act of solidarity.

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"We the tribes ask you to listen to our land," Joseph said, according to Reuters. "It's telling us to implement promises to slow the change."

After signing the declaration, Tillerson told the council that his administration was still determining its approach to combating climate change.

"In the United States, we are currently reviewing several important policies, including how the Trump administration will approach the issue of climate change," Tillerson said.

"We’re appreciative that each of you has an important point of view and you should know that we are taking the time to understand your concerns," Tillerson added. "We’re not going to rush to make a decision. We’re going to work to make the right decision for the United States.”

An anonymous State Department official noted that the Fairbanks Declaration does not mean that the Trump administration will work to curb carbon emissions.

"The Fairbanks Declaration notes what Paris claims to be," the official told ABC News. "It does not obligate the U.S. to enforce it."

Attorney Michael LeVine of the environmental nonprofit called the Fairbanks Declaration a positive development amid concerns that the Trump administration would walk away from the Paris Climate Agreement.

"We hope that this declaration is a meaningful step in the evolution of the Trump administration's approach to climate change issue," LeVine said, according to the Los Angeles Times. "The United States has the opportunity and obligation to lead efforts to reduce climate impacts and to ensure the long-term sustainability of Arctic Ocean ecosystems.”

Trump will announce his decision regarding the Paris Agreement after attending the Group of Seven Summit in late May.

Sources: ABC News, Donald J. Trump/TwitterLos Angeles TimesReuters / Photo Credit: U.S. Department of State/Flickr

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