US Secretary of State defends US withdrawal from Paris climate agreement

“We're very proud of our record of reducing our emissions. That's been done without the Paris climate accord,” Mr Tillerson says. 

The US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has defended his boss’ decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement, saying the US already has an “exceptional record.”

Mr Tillerson is only in New Zealand for eight hours, during which time he is holding conversations with Prime Minister Bill English, Foreign Affairs Minister Gerry Brownlee and Labour leader Andrew Little.

He joined Mr English for a press conference this afternoon where he discussed the US withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement, Asia-Pacific issues and US President Donald Trump’s use of social media.

The secretary of state was upbeat about the two nations' relationship, saying the US “approach[ed] and valued the partnership.”

But Mr Tillerson was clearly unhappy when he was asked how New Zealand could trust Mr Trump’s “unpredictable” approach to leadership.

“I would take exception to your characterisation of Mr Trump being unpredictable,” Mr Tillerson says.

The secretary of state says Mr Trump ran his campaign on the intention to withdraw from the Paris Agreement and from the TPP.

“There was very little support in Congress, which are the people’s elected officials [in the US] for either TPP or Paris.”

Mr Tillerson says President Trump made it clear he did not think the agreements “served the American people well.”

He did take time to talk up what he called the US' “extraordinary record” of reducing greenhouse gases – “possibly unparalleled by anyone else.”

“We’re very proud of our record of reducing our emissions. That’s been done without the Paris climate accord,” he says, adding entrepreneurship in this area should be praised.

“We have every expectation that record of performance is going to continue. There is no reason it would stop just because we withdrew from Paris.”

Speaking to media after the press conference, Mr English said the talks with Mr Tillerson went well.

“We were reassured by the fact he has come so early in [his tenure] and by his description of how he expects the US to function in the Asia Pacific.”

He says this was the most important part of their talks today, as New Zealand wants to see continued US engagement in the region.  

Mr English says he had no conversations about New Zealand increasing its military contribution to Iraq or Afghanistan – “he simply indicated appreciation with the job [New Zealand is doing] training [security forces].”  

Mr English also says there had been no talks about furthering bilateral trade negotiations between the two countries.

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