WASHINGTON – Former ExxonMobil Corp. Chairman and CEO Rex Tillerson, nominated by President-elect Donald Trump to be secretary of state, said Wednesday that he believed that the risk of climate change exists but that the effect of greenhouse gas emissions on global warming was hard to predict.
Tillerson was asked several questions about climate change during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee given that he worked for more than four decades at a company dedicated to extracting fossil fuels, the burning of which is considered a major cause of global warming.
“The risk of climate change does exist and the consequences of it could be serious enough that action should be taken,” he said.
When pressed for his thoughts about the human contribution to this phenomenon, the oil man said “the increase in greenhouse-gas concentrations in the atmosphere (is) having effect.”
“But our ability to predict that effect is very limited,” he added.
Tillerson, however, said it was important for the United States to keep its seat at the table in international negotiations on climate change, adding that the problem was real and required a global response.
“No one country is going to solve this on its own,” he said.
Those remarks contrasted with some earlier statements by Trump, who during the campaign said he would pull the United States out of the 2015 Paris climate pact or at least seek to renegotiate it.
Several environmental activists interrupted Tillerson’s confirmation hearing on multiple occasions.
Earlier, in response to aggressive questioning by Sen. Marco Rubio, Tillerson acknowledged that a declassified release issued last Friday by the office of Director of National Intelligence James Clapper was “clearly troubling.”
That release said US intelligence agencies concluded that Russia staged cyber-attacks aimed at influencing the Nov. 8 election.
That alleged hacking was characterized in the report as an effort to harm Democratic Party nominee Hillary Clinton’s prospects in the election and to discredit the democratic process.
However, Tillerson refused to call Russian President Vladimir Putin a war criminal when asked to do so by Rubio, who said Russia was guilty of war crimes in Syria.
Trump’s decision to nominate Tillerson, who forged a multi-billion-dollar offshore exploration partnership in the Arctic region between Exxon and Russian state oil company Rosneft in 2011, has been criticized by fellow Republicans, including prominent GOP senators and Russia hawks Rubio and John McCain.
Earlier, in a prepared statement at the start of Wednesday’s confirmation hearing, Tillerson called on the United States to be “clear-eyed” about its relationship with Russia, saying Moscow poses a danger but “is not unpredictable in advancing its own interests.”
With respect to Cuba, Tillerson criticized the Obama administration for re-establishing full relations with the Communist-ruled island without extracting any “significant concessions” on human rights and called for correcting that aspect of the diplomatic thaw.
He also had harsh words for China, accusing it of not being “a reliable partner” in terms of containing North Korea’s nuclear program and saying that Beijing’s island-building in the South China Sea was an “illegal taking of disputed areas without regard for international norms.”
Tillerson also echoed Trump’s criticism of China on the economic front, saying its “economic and trade practices have not always followed its commitments to global agreements.”
Nevertheless, he acknowledged that the “economic well-being of our two nations is deeply intertwined” and said China had been “a valuable ally in curtailing elements of radical Islam.”