The United Nations General Assembly opens next month with a major summit on climate change – but at least one head of state will be absent from the global stage.
Three senior administration officials told McClatchy that President Donald Trump plans to skip the U.N. Climate Action Summit on Sept. 23 hosted by U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler will lead the U.S. delegation.
Wheeler will participate “in part of the summit to highlight America’s environmental progress,” an EPA spokesman confirmed. It remains unclear whether Kelly Craft, the president’s new U.N. ambassador who is navigating ethics obligations regarding her involvement in fossil fuel matters, will attend the conference.
One administration official cautioned that the situation could change as the summit nears given the president’s mercurial approach to diplomacy. Aides to the president also said that whoever represents the administration at the conference will argue the U.S. has made progress in reducing carbon dioxide emissions despite Trump’s withdrawal of the U.S. from the Paris climate agreement.
A State Department official would only say, “the United States is considering the nature of our participation at the UN Secretary General’s Climate Summit.”
Guterres wrote to world leaders in July requesting their attendance and asking them to submit “concrete, realistic plans” by early August outlining how they plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, when parties to the Paris accord are expected to renew their commitments.
A U.N. official said the secretary-general expects world leaders already in New York for the General Assembly to participate. In June, Guterres said he was particularly hopeful that nations in the Group of 20 – “the most important interlocutors” – would attend.
“The scientific evidence is there – we all know what needs to be done, and so we are pushing countries,” Guterres told TIME Magazine in an interview. “It’s not to convene a conference to come to a consensus on a document. It is to make country by country assume leadership and assume this ambition that is necessary.”
In announcing the U.S. withdrawal in 2017, Trump said the pact was unenforceable and disproportionately harmful to American industry. All other nations remain in the agreement.
While Trump is campaigning for re-election on a record of “environmental leadership,” critics of his administration say he has gutted the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and rolled back regulations intended to combat the pollutants fueling climate change.
Last year, Trump sent a U.S. delegation to COP24 – an annual gathering on climate change – that was accused of obstructing talks with a defense of fossil fuels. In June, Trump lobbied foreign allies to join him in an effort to weaken climate goals as part of a communique at the annual G20 summit in Japan.
The Trump administration says that it takes the threats of climate change “seriously” and supports innovative private sector efforts, such as carbon capture and storage technology, that will mitigate pollution.