Vice President Mike Pence has called the issue of climate change "a paramount issue for the left" as he sought to defend Donald Trump's decision to withdraw the US from the Paris agreement on climate change.
His comments came a day after Mr Trump announced he was pulling out of the global accord signed by nearly 200 countries in an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and tackle global warming.
The move has been met with harsh criticism from the leaders of France, Germany, Italy, and former President Barack Obama, who used an executive order to push through US involvement in the deal so he could bypass climate sceptics in Congress.
Mr Pence echoed the President's comments on the administration's "America First" doctrine, saying he was steadfast in his belief that withdrawing from the climate deal would be good for the US economy and job creation.
It is "so refreshing to have a President who stands without apology ... For America first", Mr Pence said on Fox News' Fox & Friends programme, saying he didn't understand why climate change had become such a big issue for the Democrats and the left.
Mr Pence called the Paris deal "a transfer of wealth from the most powerful economy in the world to other countries around the planet".
His remarks came as China and Europe pledged to unite to save what German Chancellor Angela Merkel called “our Mother Earth”.
At a long-planned meeting between Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and European Union officials in Brussels, the leaders pledged full implementation of the Paris deal. They committed to reduce their use of fossil fuels, develop more green technology and raise funds to help poorer countries reduce emissions.
China, now the world's largest polluter, has emerged as Europe's unlikely partner in this and other areas as Mr Trump has isolated the United States on many issues. China said it was a responsible country that had been tackling climate change. Separately, India also pledged their commitment to the accord.
“Today we are stepping up our cooperation on climate change with China ... We are convinced that yesterday's decision by the United States to leave the Paris agreement is a big mistake,” European Council President Donald Tusk said.
Earlier, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said: “There is no reverse gear to energy transition. There is no backsliding on the Paris Agreement.”
Amid the international outcry over Mr Trump's decision, Vice President Pence sought to tout the Trump administrations environmental credentials.
"We've demonstrated real leadership and real progress" on emissions reductions and environment, Mr Pence said.
He was one of a number of Trump administration officials to defend the withdrawal a day after Mr Trump announced it.
Senior White House adviser Kellyanne Conway said Mr Trump's decision is about “fairness” to American workers and businesses.
“The President believes in a clean environment,” she said in an appearance on Fox News Channel's Fox & Friends.
“Why should we frontload so much of the economic burden in this agreement?” Ms Conway added.
At the White House, Scott Pruitt, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), said that Mr Trump had made a "courageous decision ... On behalf of the American people".
However, Mr Trump's proposed federal budget calls for a slashing of Mr Pruitt's EPA budget by nearly 30 per cent and includes cuts to other agencies doing work on climate change like the ocean preservation activities of the US Coast Guard and climate diplomacy at the State Department.
The Vice President said the US had to leave the Paris accord and renegotiate it because it "put a real burden ... On our people" and American workers. In his announcement at the White House, Mr Trump repeated his campaign promise to bring back the US coal industry and manufacturing jobs for US workers.
Coal industry jobs have actually been in a steady decline since the 1970s, mainly because of changing local economies and a focus on cleaner energy alternatives. New money in the renewable energy sector outpaced new investments in the oil and gas industry for the first time in 2015 – to the tune of $350bn.
Several business leaders including the heads of Shell and BP as well as former Exxon Mobil CEO and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson all urged Mr Trump to stay in the Paris agreement.
In his first public comments on Mr Trump's move on Thursday, Mr Tillerson called it a policy decision by the President.
Mr Tillerson said people needed to recognise that the US has a “terrific record” of reducing its own greenhouse gas emissions, adding that it is “something I think we can be proud of”.
“That was done in the absence of the Paris agreement,” Mr Tillerson said. “I don't think we're going to change our effort to reduce our emission in the future, either.”
“So hopefully, people can keep it in perspective,” the Secretary of State added.
In his press conference, Mr Pruitt said that he had been called a "climate sceptic or a climate denier" but that he doesn't "know what it means to deny the climate".
"I would say that there are climate exaggerators," Mr Pruitt added.
However, while Mr Pruitt said that he believes human activity plays a role in global warming – even if he thinks that contribution is difficult to measure – all of Trump administrations officials asked on the topic refused to say if Mr Trump believes in climate change.
Mr Pruitt dodged the question when it was put to him, while Press Secretary Sean Spicer, who was appearing at the same briefing, said he had "not had the opportunity to specifically talk to the President about that". Ms Conway also demurred, while the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke told CNN that while he "doesn't believe climate change is a hoax" he does not speak for President Trump and hadn't asked him about the subject.
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