Trump questions the overwhelming scientific consensus on climate change, saying there are "lots of cases for different views."
Donald Trump's stay of execution for pulling the United States out of a landmark climate pact was welcomed Wednesday by diplomats and experts, even as they fretted about appointments and decisions yet to come.
In a wide-ranging conversation with executives and journalists Tuesday from the New York Times, the president-elect said repeatedly that he had an "open mind" about the UN Paris Agreement and, more broadly, whether global warming was caused by human activity.
"I think there is some connectivity," he said at the Times headquarters in Manhattan, according to the paper's own account.
"I'm looking at it very closely. I have an open mind to it."
At the same time, Trump questioned the overwhelming scientific consensus on climate change, saying there are "lots of cases for different views."
An international climate summit in Marrakesh tasked with implementing the first universal action plan for curbing global warming ended on Friday, shadowed by Trump's campaign promise to "cancel" the deal inked last December in the French capital.
Ahead of his surprise win in the November 8 vote, the brash New York billionaire had also vowed to dismantle domestic regulations for curbing C02 emissions which, he claimed, put US companies at a competitive disadvantage.
"It's good news that he's moving in the direction of thinking things through," said Laurence Tubiana, France's top climate negotiator and a main architect of the 196-nation Paris deal, which went into force earlier this month.
"It is a more open and realistic position," she told AFP. "But the big question remains: what will US national policy be?"
Shoot the messenger
Under the Paris Agreement, the US has agreed to cut its CO2 pollution 26-28 percent by 2025, measured against 2005 levels.
The Obama administration also promised some three billion dollars for a fund to help poor countries make their economies greener and cope with unavoidable climate impacts, such as heatwaves, droughts and storm surges.
During the campaign, Trump said he would abandon those pledges.
"It is one thing to say you are not going to pull out of the Paris Agreement," said veteran climate analyst Alden Meyer from the Washington-based Union of Concerned Scientists.
"It is another to say you are no going to lift a finger to implement your commitments."
As with other issues ranging from abortion to immigration, Trump in recent years has been all over the map on climate change.
In November 2012 he famously tweeted that the "concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese" to undermine US industry.
But in 2009 -- ahead of the Copenhagen climate summit -- Trump and dozens of top CEOs put their name to an open letter supporting Barack Obama's "effort to ensure meaningful and effective measures to control climate change."
Whether Trump's new-found willingness to rethink campaign promises to quit the fight against global warming is sincere will show up in his appointments and policies, said Meyer.
The choices made to head transitions at the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy, Meyer added, are not encouraging for those concerned about capping the rise in Earth's temperature.
Nor is the decision to gut the budget for climate research at NASA, as reported Wednesday by The Guardian, citing a named source in the Trump transition team.
"Nixing funding for NASA’s Earth Science Division would confirm our worst fears about the attitude of the incoming administration to evidence: if you don’t like what you are hearing, shoot the messenger," said Myles Allen, a top climate scientist at the University of Oxford in Britain.
In the sit-down with the New York Times Tuesday, Trump was asked how he would react if countries -- retaliating against a US pullout from the Paris climate deal -- were to "slap tariffs on American goods."
"They're in no position to do that to us, and that won't happen," Trump responded. "But I'm going to look into it."