By Michelle Nichols
(Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump's pick to be United Nations ambassador acknowledged on Wednesday that climate change is a threat and pledged to recuse herself from any U.N. talks on the issue involving coal because her husband is a coal billionaire.
Speaking before the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee in Washington, Kelly Craft - currently U.S. ambassador to Canada - also said fossil fuels were partly to blame. In 2017, Craft said she believed "both sides of the science" on climate change.
"Climate change needs to be addressed as it poses real risk to our planet. Human behaviour has contributed to the change in climate, let there be no doubt," she told the senators. "If confirmed, I will be an advocate in addressing climate change."
Trump has rejected the science on climate change and two years ago announced the United States would withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement, which aims to reduce global carbon emissions that scientists link to harmful climate change.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has made tackling climate change one of his top priorities, describing it as climate emergency and calling for an end to the construction of coal power plants from 2020.
"I will give you my commitment that where coal is part of the conversation within climate change at the U.N. I will recuse myself," Craft, a top Republican party donor from Kentucky, vowed during the Senate hearing.
With her husband Joe sitting behind her, Craft joked with senators that she might have to find another way home after making her remarks on climate change. Joe Craft is chief executive of Alliance Resource Partners LP.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will vote on Craft's nomination, likely within days, before the full Senate considers it. That vote has not been scheduled, but Senate leaders have said they want it to take place quickly.
If approved, Craft will replace Nikki Haley, who stepped down as U.N. ambassador at the end of 2018 after two years in the job. Craft was Trump's second choice; he had planned to nominate former State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert, but she withdrew her name from consideration for family reasons.
Craft will face a variety of challenges, including championing U.S. efforts to contain Iran's influence in the Middle East and ensuring the global body maintains tough sanctions on North Korea as Washington tries to negotiate an end to Pyongyang's nuclear and missile programs.
She also told the Senate committee: "I'm not going there to be Russia's friend. They're not our friend. ... I will keep a clear eye on them."
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; editing by Jonathan Oatis)