Pompeo lists ‘changes in climate’ among national security risks

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo launched a defense of the Trump administration’s climate policy on Friday, mocking international efforts to combat the crisis while claiming credit for U.S. progress in reducing carbon dioxide emissions.

In an interview with McClatchy’s The Wichita Eagle and The Kansas City Star, Pompeo said the United States had successfully met its commitments under the Paris climate agreement despite having withdrawn from the accord two years ago. “We have reduced our carbon footprint,” he asserted.

It was an acknowledgment of the realities of climate change from one of President Donald Trump’s most trusted Cabinet officials in an administration seen by environmentalists as aggressively protective of the fossil fuel industry.

“Any time there’s a risk to American national security, from whatever source – whether its radical Islamic terrorism, nuclear weapons systems in North Korea or Iran – this president will act to address them,” Pompeo said. “And so as we see issues that are impacted by changes in climate, or other things that change around the world – we worry about fragile states, all the things that come from impoverished nations.”

His remarks come amid a sustained assault from the Trump administration on environmental regulations put in place to limit the private sector’s ever-increasing emissions output, and as debate continues within the White House over the role humans play in warming the planet.

Trump has questioned the extent of climate change and whether it is as damaging as most scientists believe. But a worldwide threat assessment issued by his administration earlier this year lists climate change among the nation’s challenges.

“Global environmental and ecological degradation, as well as climate change, are likely to fuel competition for resources, economic distress, and social discontent through 2019 and beyond,” the report states.

Pompeo delivered a lecture at Kansas State University and in taking questions at the event, he was confronted at the outset over the administration’s posture on climate – and the exodus of scientists from key posts across the government.

“We turn to scientists and fact-based approaches to every single problem we face,” Pompeo replied.

But Trump’s aides have faced mounting criticism over their climate policy as the administration continues rolling back regulations, including on potent greenhouses gases such as methane and on fuel efficiency standards.

White House officials say the administration is in agreement that the climate is changing, but that private innovation – not government regulation – is the best method to combat the threat.

Trump plans on skipping a high-level climate action summit hosted by U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres later this month, after missing a session on climate at the Group of Seven summit in Biarritz, France, in August. His empty chair at the G7 meeting was seen as reflective of critics’ frequent assertion that the United States has relinquished its leadership role on climate matters on the global stage.

But Pompeo rejected that, as well, dismissing international efforts as perfunctory.

“The message that this administration has sent to the world is that we are going to do things that actually matter to the American people. Meetings, ribbon cuttings – we left the Paris accords. The United States has actually honored the commitments it made,” Pompeo said.

“We’ve actually reduced CO2 outputs,” he continued. “How has China done? China’s in the deal, right? Everyone wants to talk about the United States withdrew from the deal, in, out – what really matters is not fancy meetings, cocktail parties, agreements of elites socializing in places in Europe. What really matters is delivering for the American people.”

Michael Wilner reported from Washington.

Jonathan Shorman covers Kansas politics and the Legislature for The Wichita Eagle and The Kansas City Star. He’s been covering politics for six years, first in Missouri and now in Kansas. He holds a journalism degree from the University of Kansas.
Michael Wilner joined McClatchy as its White House correspondent in 2019. He previously served as Washington bureau chief for The Jerusalem Post, where he led coverage of the Iran nuclear talks, the Syrian refugee crisis and the 2016 US presidential campaign. Wilner holds degrees from Claremont McKenna College and Columbia University and is a native of New York City.