WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States will participate in advancing climate change research in the Arctic, a State Department official said on Monday, ahead of a summit of Arctic nations later this week where Washington’s commitment to tackling climate change will likely be questioned.
The administration of President Donald Trump, who has taking steps to bolster the U.S. oil and coal industries, is reviewing former President Barack Obama’s plans to curb climate change.
Trump vowed during his campaign to “cancel” the Paris climate deal within 100 days of becoming president - a time period which has already passed - and has asked his advisers to debate whether the United States should stay in the pact.
The Paris climate pact was agreed by nearly 200 nations in 2015 to curb warming by slashing carbon dioxide emissions.
But Washington will not shut down participation in climate science on the Arctic, which is facing the fastest rate of global warming in the world.
“The U.S. will remain engaged in the work the Arctic Council does on climate change throughout,” David Balton, the State Department’s assistant secretary for oceans and international environmental and scientific affairs, told reporters in a teleconference ahead of the meeting. “I am very confident there will be no change in that regard,” he said.
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will host the biennial Arctic Council meeting in Fairbanks, Alaska, on Thursday.
The meeting will be attended by foreign ministers from Russia, Canada and other nations with territory in the Arctic - which scientists warn could suffer trillions of dollars worth of climate change-related damage to infrastructure in the coming decades.
Trump’s consideration of pulling the United States out of the Paris agreement has led many countries, including America’s Arctic neighbors, to question Washington’s commitment to protecting the region from the effects of climate change.
Warming in the Arctic has raised the prospect of a new rush for resources as retreating ice opens new sea lanes, oil and minerals reserves, and fisheries. The United States and Russia have both expressed an interest in boosting Arctic drilling, and Russia has bolstered its military presence in the north.
Finland is due to take over the two-year chairmanship of the council from the United States at the end of Thursday’s meeting. Finland has said it aims to protect the Arctic during its chairmanship by adhering to the Paris agreement.
“It is of decisive importance that the United States remains part” of the Paris agreement, Norwegian Foreign Minister Borge Brende said ahead of the Arctic Council meeting.
Trump has said he will announce his decision on the climate pact before a Group of Seven summit at the end of May.
Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Additional reporting by Alister Doyle in Oslo; Editing by Leslie Adler