Trump set for climate confrontation in Paris

Trump set for climate confrontation in Paris

President Trump’s visit to Paris this week will put him face-to-face with French President Emmanuel Macron, perhaps Europe’s loudest critic of his climate agenda. 

Macron has issued a series of provocative statements against Trump’s decision to renege on the United States’ commitment to the Paris climate agreement, inviting American scientists to continue their work in France, highlighting a climate alliance with China and even mocking Trump with a Twitter hashtag fashioned after the U.S. president’s campaign slogan.


Trump and Macron are due to hold a round of bilateral meetings and a joint press conference later this week, making it likely the two will confront the Paris agreement and the state of climate and energy diplomacy in light of Trump’s decision to pull out of the accord.

“I think Macron has made the legacy of the Paris agreement, and its implementation, a core part of his agenda,” said David Waskow, international climate director at the World Resources Institute.

“Exactly how it will come up between the leaders is hard to say, but it’s hard to imagine that Macron wouldn’t want to address it in some fashion.” 

Trump’s June 1 decision to pull out of the Paris agreement set the tone for his relationship with Macron, who had taken office only two-and-a-half weeks prior. 

Trump called the accord “very unfair” because of greenhouse gas emissions goals and financing provisions that he said benefit foreign nations, including France, over the United States.

“I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris,” he said in an address at the White House Rose Garden.

“It is time to put Youngstown, Ohio, Detroit, Michigan, and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania — along with many, many other locations within our great country — before Paris, France.”

International recriminations began piling up immediately after Trump’s announcement, but few were as loud or defensive as those from Macron. 

Macron delivered a live statement that night — in English — decrying the decision and inviting “engineers, entrepreneurs, responsible citizens who were disappointed by the decision of the president of the United States” to move to his country. 

The next day, his government released a video fact-checking the White House’s talking points on the deal. 

Macron later launched a website designed to attract U.S. climate scientists — “faced with the climatic skepticism of the new government of the United States” — to his country to continue their research. The site was called “Make Our Planet Great Again,” a phrase Macron has frequently deployed on Twitter to poke at Trump over the Paris agreement.

During the Group of 20 summit last week, the French president said he would host a climate conference in December and pledged to continue pressing Trump on the Paris agreement, setting the stage for a debate on the matter this week. 

The White House has said the meeting with Macron will focus on Syria and counterterrorism, though a senior administration official said this week that Trump is bracing for climate issues to come up as well.

“The conduct of the bilateral session ... is based on topics that were coordinated with the French president,” the official said earlier this week. 

“It’s entirely possible that President Macron will raise the issue, and if he does, [Trump] has spoken on the issue a number of times and he’ll be ready to engage in that, as well.”

A joint press conference could serve as another venue for climate questions to Trump and Macron, especially for French reporters looking to probe Trump’s position on the Paris agreement.

On issues ranging from national security to trade to climate change, Trump’s foreign policy agenda has followed the “America First” platform on which he based his presidential campaign. 

That means it’s unlikely anything Macron says will sway Trump from his anti-Paris agreement position, something that has endeared him to American conservatives and nationalists skeptical of both the science behind climate change and the global efforts to fight it.

“President Trump might not even mind a bit of public disagreement on this point, as two-thirds of Republicans say they support the president’s withdrawal from the Paris agreement,” Center for Strategic and International Studies experts wrote in a preview of the meeting this week. 

The U.S. was the only country not to sign a G-20 declaration on climate change and the Paris agreement last week, but Trump officials say the go-it-alone stance doesn’t diminish American work on environmental issues.

“Everyone accepted that, very early, that we chose to get out of the Paris agreement,” National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn told reporters after the meeting.  

“But we do go out of our way to say in there that that doesn’t mean that we don’t support the environment, and we’re still working for the environment.”

Macron’s rhetorical broadsides against Trump underline an aggressive diplomatic and domestic agenda, designed both to boost the Paris agreement and pressure the U.S. on international climate work. 

During the G-20 summit last week, Macron and Chinese President Xi Jinping used a bilateral meeting to reaffirm their support for the Paris agreement and discuss new renewable energy projects, Macron’s office said. 

Macron later tweeted that “to defend the Paris agreement, France and China are united,” adding to international warnings that Trump’s Paris decision cedes a key American leadership role to China and others instead.  

Domestically, Macron has proposed ending new oil and gas drilling leases in France and its overseas territories as part of a push to focus instead on renewable energy. French officials said last week that they will aim to end the sale of gasoline- and diesel-fueled vehicles in the country by 2040. 

American climate advocates say they’re optimistic about Macron’s approach.

“It’s obviously in Macron’s interest to talk about climate change, to talk about the Paris agreement,” Sierra Club Global Climate Policy Director John Coequyt said. 

“I think he has begun to back up that rhetoric with action, but he’s a very new president like Trump, and time will tell. So far, so good.”