UN Climate Chief's Request to Meet Tillerson Goes Unanswered

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  • Patricia Espinosa visiting U.S. to discuss Paris Accord
  • She urges business leaders to voluntarily cut emissions

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The top United Nations climate change official continues to wait for a response to her request to meet with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson over whether the U.S. will remain in the landmark Paris environmental accord.

Patricia Espinosa, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, asked for a sitdown with Tillerson before leaving for a visit to the U.S. this week. In an interview Wednesday, she said she’d heard nothing from the State Department in return.

Patricia Espinosa

Photographer: Susana Gonzalez/Bloomberg

“I have not heard back. It is understandable at the beginning of an administration,’’ Espinosa said after speaking at a climate change conference in Chicago “They are a very important partner to us, and I’m looking forward to working together.’’

A State Department spokesman didn’t respond to a request for comment.

The silence from the State Department comes amid questions over the U.S. stance on climate change. While President Donald Trump has questioned it, Tillerson acknowledged that the planet is warming while he served as chief executive officer of Exxon Mobil Corp., and his successor last week called for a carbon tax to discourage the use of polluting fuels.

‘Climate Threat’

Environmentalists expressed disappointment that the top UN climate official would not have the opportunity to discuss the issue with a State Department representative.

“It is unfortunate that Secretary Tillerson was unwilling to meet with Executive Secretary Espinosa,” Alden Meyer, director of policy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said in an emailed statement Thursday. “Climate change represents a clear and present danger to the prosperity, security and quality of life of all Americans, and threatens the development prospects and stability of other countries. Addressing the climate threat is thus mission-critical for Secretary Tillerson and his State Department.”

During her remarks in Chicago, Espinosa urged an audience of business executives to voluntarily reduce emissions and set the tone for politicians who are reluctant to enact aggressive environmental policies. The event drew executives from some of the largest U.S companies, including General Motors Co., United Continental Holdings Inc. and Procter & Gamble Co.

“Policy makers must hear that action is happening,’’ Espinosa said. “They need to have confidence that this action will back their decisions.’’

Espinosa didn’t mention Trump, who vowed during the recent U.S. election campaign to exit the agreement but later said he would keep an open mind. Asked last week about his plans for the accord, a White House spokesman said Trump and Tillerson were discussing the matter.

Espinosa, who is based in Bonn, took over in May as executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and oversees the process of implementing the Paris agreement, which was brokered in 2015 by 195 nations.

Dire Consequences

The accord, broader than any previous climate agreement, calls for reducing pollution in hopes of limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above temperatures at the outset of the industrial revolution.

Environmental groups have warned of dire consequences if the U.S. abandons the Paris Accord. As the richest nation and the second-largest polluter, U.S. efforts are central to keeping climate change from hitting an irreversible tipping point, unleashing catastrophic floods, droughts and storms, scientists say.

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