Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told New Zealand leaders the US cannot move much in the short term on climate change but is still open to engagement on it, Foreign Affairs Minister Gerry Brownlee says.
Mr Tillerson made a fleeting visit to Wellington yesterday to emphasise the importance of the Asia Pacific region, meeting with Mr Brownlee and Prime Minister Bill English.
One of the subjects they raised was US President Donald Trump's decision to pull the US out of the international Paris Agreement on climate change.
The Agreement, which has been ratified by 148 countries internationally, establishes objectives to reduce emissions such that global temperatures would not rise further than 2°C above pre-industrial levels.
Mr Brownlee told Morning Report Mr Tillerson spoke about climate in the meeting yesterday.
He said the Secretary of State told them there was not a lot of room for the US to move on some of the short-term targets, but made it clear that the door was still open on engagement with climate change issues.
"He also made it clear that United States emissions have fallen, pretty much since 1990 although their economy has almost doubled since that time. That is an indisputable sort of figure," Mr Brownlee said.
"But what he was saying is that all that happened, as far as they are concerned, without any government prodding - no particular initiatives and no international agreements."
It was unclear what figures Mr Tillerson was quoting, but the US environmental protection agency showed that although US emissions fell by 7 percent between 2005 and 2014, emissions for that year were up 7 percent compared to 1990.
Mr Trump has also promised to roll back climate initiatives and put more investment into coal.
Independent climate science umbrella group Climate Action Tracker, which tracks the progress of countries towards reductions, noted current US policies were expected to reduce emissions to 10 percent below 2005 levels by 2025.
With Mr Trump's planned removal of the Clean Power Plan, it expected that figure to drop to only 7 percent.
Mr Brownlee said Mr Tillerson talked to them about non-governmental initiatives pushing emission reductions forward.
"What he was also indicating was that none of that is going to stop in the US - business and other activities in the US will look to emission reduction because it makes sense."