US treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, January 22 2020. Picture: REUTERS/DENIS BALIBOUSE
US treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, January 22 2020. Picture: REUTERS/DENIS BALIBOUSE

Davos  — Just as the spat between US President Donald Trump and Greta Thunberg seemed to be subsiding, US treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin took a new dig at the climate activist on Thursday.

Asked about Thunberg’s call to divest from fossil fuels, Mnuchin told a news briefing: “Is she the chief economist? I’m confused ... After she goes and studies economics in college, she can come back and explain that to us.”

Mnuchin’s quip came two days after Trump and Thunberg sparred indirectly at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in the Swiss ski resort of Davos. After Trump said the US had committed to joining the 1-trillion tree initiative, Thunberg retorted that fixing the climate crisis was not only about trees.

Before he left Davos, however, Trump seemed to extend an olive branch, saying he wished he had seen Thunberg speak.

Addressing the Trump administration’s stance on climate, Mnuchin said the US position has been “misunderstood ... There is a real misinterpretation of the US policy. Let me be very clear: President Trump absolutely believes in clean air and clean water and having a clean environment.”

However, Mnuchin later told CNBC he did not believe there were just a few years left to prevent a climate catastrophe.

“There are a lot of other important issues” threatening civilisation,” he said, citing health and nuclear proliferation. “I think that the youth needs to understand that climate is one issue that needs to be put in contexts with lots of other things.”

But German Chancellor Angela Merkel rushed to Thunberg’s defence, saying that attaining the goals of the Paris climate accord, which the US has quit, is vital. “Time is pressing, so we — the older ones, I am 65 years old — must make sure that we take the impatience of young people positively and constructively,” Merkel said in her speech to the WEF.

German recession fears ebb

Merkel also said the danger of Germany slipping into recession is receding thanks to an easing in tensions between major global trading partners.

“I think we should be happy that the first phase of a trade deal between the US and China has been agreed,” she said during a Q&A session after her speech. “With each step — an orderly British exit from the EU, with trade deals and no trade war, less protectionism — we are reducing the danger of a recession. At a time when we have a lot of trade conflicts, you see that global economic growth slows.”

Europe can contribute to growth and stability and foster confidence in the euro by completing the integration of its banking system and capital markets, the German leader said.

On 5G mobile network expansion in Europe she said excluding individual suppliers, such as China’s Huawei Technologies, would not necessarily make them more secure.

“I don’t think I make myself particularly secure if I shut out an entire supplier and don’t know how they are developing,” she said during the Q& A session. “To be honest, we have already dealt with spying and industrial espionage in former times, and in that sense I wouldn’t change the equipment completely. But we do have to be careful.”

Reuters, Bloomberg

Would you like to comment on this article or view other readers' comments?
Register (it’s quick and free) or sign in now.

Speech Bubbles

Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.