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New U.S. ambassador to Canada believes in ‘both sides’ of climate change debate

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President Trump’s newly appointed ambassador to Canada believes in “both sides” of the debate surrounding climate change.

U.S. ambassador Kelly Craft, who assumed her new duties on Monday, told the CBC that she believes there is merit to both arguments in favor of the existence of climate change and those countering the belief that the phenomenon is fueled by human beings.

“I think that both sides have their own results, from their studies, and I appreciate and I respect both sides of the science,” Craft said, adding that she feels each side has presented “accurate” data. She declined to say whether or not she herself was inclined towards one side or another.

Craft, the first woman to serve in her position, is a businesswoman, philanthropist and major donor to the Republican Party. She is also married to Kentucky coal magnate Joe Craft, who actively criticized the climate policies of the Obama administration. He is the president and CEO of Alliance Resource Partners LP — one of the largest coal producers in the eastern United States.

As a couple, the Crafts donated to the 2016 presidential campaigns of Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and Chris Christie, along with President Trump. Joe Craft is reportedly a climate change skeptic and “may be Kentucky’s most powerful non-elected individual,” according to the Lexington Herald-Ledger. His love for coal goes deep — among other things, he reportedly commissioned a “Friends of Coal” stamp for his SUV license plate.

While it’s unclear how closely aligned Craft’s politics are to those of her husband, the new ambassador seems aligned with the White House on climate policy. In addition to her remarks on climate change, Craft defended Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris climate agreement in May, arguing that the decision in no way signified a lack of commitment to the environment.

“I feel like our administration has been on top of this [environmental concerns] regardless of whether or not they would be pulling out,” Craft said.

Trump earned international condemnation when he announced that the United States would leave the Paris agreement. The accord, which brought together nearly every single country in the world, committed all signatories to keeping global temperatures from rising more than 2°C, in addition to implementing sustainable climate practices and investing in green technology. At the time of its signing in 2015, only two countries abstained — Nicaragua, which worried the agreement did not go far enough, and Syria, which is embroiled in a civil war. Nicaragua joined the agreement on Monday.

In announcing the U.S. exit, Trump argued that the move would preserve U.S. interests. The president argued that the United States had disproportionately shouldered the bulk of the agreement’s demands, allowing other countries to avoid their responsibilities.

“I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris,” Trump declared at the time.

Leaders across the world slammed the decision, including Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

“We are deeply disappointed that the United States federal government has decided to withdraw from the Paris Agreement,” Trudeau wrote on Twitter at the time. “Canada is unwavering in our commitment to fight climate change and support clean economic growth.”

That division has taken a toll on U.S.-Canada relations, as have other points of contention. While relations are usually warm, the Trump administration has shifted that legacy dramatically.

Craft’s appointment comes at a key time: NAFTA renegotiations are currently stalled over striding U.S. demands. Both Canada and Mexico are unhappy with their neighbor and the talks are now expected to stretch into March 2018, longer than negotiators had originally hoped. Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland has been especially critical of U.S. NAFTA requests, accusing the Trump administration of being unnecessarily difficult.

“We have seen a series of unconventional proposals in critical areas that make our work much more challenging,” Freeland said. “We have seen proposals that would turn back the clock on 23 years of predictability, openness, and collaboration. In some cases, these proposals run counter to World Trade Organization rules. This is troubling.”

Clashes over NAFTA and the environment won’t make Craft’s job any easier. Roland Paris, Trudeau’s first foreign policy adviser, told the Toronto Star that Trump’s unpopularity over the border isn’t going to help Craft’s odds of success.

“Among other things, she will be asked to explain why President Trump seems inclined to treat Canada, America’s closest ally and friend, as an economic adversary rather than as a partner,” Paris said. He also noted it might be hard for Craft to do her job “given the confused state of the Trump administration.”

Craft is not the first member of the Trump administration to face questions about climate change. Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, was asked whether Trump believed in the phenomenon. “The president believes the climate is changing,” Haley told CBS, “and he does know that pollutants are a part of that equation.”

Trump himself has dodged the issue multiple times, questioning scientific evidence and dismissing the link between greenhouse gases and climate change. As a presidential candidate, Trump claimed climate change was created by China in order to thwart U.S. manufacturing.

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