26 april 2018

Macron subtly snubs Trump on climate

Jean Chemnick, E&E News reporter, Thursday, April 26, 2018

French President Emmanuel Macron this week went looking for U.S. climate allies who aren't President Trump.

Macron told a joint session of Congress yesterday that he and the U.S. president, whom he spent the previous day bonding with in White House sessions and a state dinner, have disagreements, "like in all families."

One of those is the fate of the Paris Agreement, in which Macron and France have a major stake and which Trump has pledged to leave. But Macron predicted the conflict would be short-lived.

"I'm sure one day, the United States will come back and join the Paris Agreement," Macron said, to wild Democratic applause. "And I'm sure we can work together to fulfill with you the ambitions of the global compact on the environment."

Trump has left the door ajar for a possible return to the Paris deal if oblique conditions are met, but Macron didn't appear to be holding his breath.

Rather, said David Livingston, deputy director of climate and advanced energy at the Atlantic Council, Macron appeared to be speaking to the people in the room — Republicans and Democrats who might take a more favorable view of U.S. Paris participation than Trump does.

"I think he was laying the groundwork for saying, 'This is not just about Trump,'" he said. Macron was showing Congress ahead of this year's midterm elections that he's "going to be very pragmatic across the board regardless of where the political winds are blowing."

But rather than involving himself with U.S. partisan divides over climate change, he framed it as an issue of generational injustice.

"Because what is the meaning of our life, really, if we work and live destroying the planet while sacrificing the future of our children?" Macron said.

It's a message the 40-year-old French president is uniquely suited to carry, and one that allows him to paint climate action and a low-carbon transition as inevitable as younger Americans embrace both at higher rates than their elders.

He won instant praise from Democrats, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California, who called his speech a "powerful presentation on our shared responsibility to protect our planet."

The message was sharply different from the more conciliatory tone Macron adopted with Trump, but was still polite.

"It was a clever way for him to have some backbone, but to do it on his own terms," said Livingston.

'Make Our Planet Great Again'

Macron said Tuesday that he and his U.S. counterpart did touch on the Paris deal during their meetings. But the French leader's approach on the issue was subtler at the White House. For example, he included in his delegation two of the 13 U.S. climate researchers he has awarded grants to as part of his "Make Our Planet Great Again" program, launched last year in an obvious response to Trump's campaign slogan.

Venkatramani Balaji, an expert in climate modeling from Princeton University, told E&E News that he was asked to join the Macron's delegation last week. Balaji is preparing to relocate to the Laboratory for Sciences of Climate and Environment in Saclay, France, this year.

He said he took Macron's grant not because the United States had become a hostile place to climate researchers in the era of Trump, but to strengthen work with U.S. and French collaborators.

"We're still very much engaged in climate science, and I don't think that's going to change anytime soon," he said.

Christopher Cantrell of the University Colorado, Boulder, a chemist, is preparing to move to a laboratory in Créteil, France, but he said he was in Washington this week to change minds.

"I see Macron as a world leader and somebody who hopefully can bring some sense of sanity to discussions of the role of science in politics, and moving forward the energy future of the planet," said Cantrell. He said he is working on processes to remove air pollutants from the atmosphere but is mostly interested in ozone and other chemicals that affect climate change.

"Carbon dioxide is kind of boring," he said.

Macron addressed Congress on the same day seven E.U. ministers agreed at a summit in Paris to step up the bloc's commitment to the Paris accord, bringing it in line with Paris' most ambitious goal of containing warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

This would require the European Union to not only put forward a more ambitious nationally determined target for 2030, but also take legislative steps toward a carbon-neutral economy in the second half of the century. It's a commitment that the United Kingdom, which is preparing to depart from the union, made last week.

"The critical conversation on how to increase the E.U.'s climate commitments is finally moving forward," said Wendel Trio, director of Climate Action Network Europe.

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