When in Rome, Will Trump Do as the Romans (and French and British and Japanese) Do?

At the G7 conference, the president will be surrounded by powerful world leaders who believe in climate change. Awkward!

May 12, 2017

G7 leaders will meet in Rome later this month

Gaetano Virgallito/Flickr

The Trump administration has kept the country waiting on whether the United States will keep its promises in regard to the Paris climate agreement. The latest word from White House watchers is that the president will postpone any decision on breaking the treaty until after this year’s G7 meeting. Later this month in Rome, the leaders of the world’s seven most advanced economies—Italy, the United Kingdom, Germany, Japan, Canada, the United States, and France—will meet to discuss the most pressing global matters. With the Syrian conflict, Brexit, trade deficits, terrorism, the tenuous state of the European Union, and the future of NATO, there’s plenty for them to talk about.

And climate change—specifically, the need for all countries to stick to the carbon-reduction commitments they made back in 2015—will also be on the agenda. You can be sure of it.

This will be Donald Trump’s first G7. Emmanuel Macron’s, too. Here’s hoping the two newbies get a chance to bond by the fireplace one evening. And if they do, here’s hoping that Macron is as charming and persuasive in private as he is in public.

The overwhelming victory last Sunday by French president-elect Macron over Marine Le Pen seems to have calmed the nerves of international observers who had been openly worrying that the West’s great liberal democracies might be succumbing, one by one, to their worst xenophobic and nationalist tendencies. The sizable margin of Macron’s triumph suggests that France hasn’t yet given up on liberté, égalité, et fraternité, the basic ideals that have guided the country since the days of the French Revolution. It’s comforting to know that—in some places, at least—a presidential campaign emphasizing reason, tolerance, science, political competence, and technocratic expertise can still win in a landslide.

In his victory speech on Sunday evening, Macron seemed to acknowledge the international mood of fragility. He might as well have been speaking to the citizens of several countries around the world when he referred to France’s difficulties, divisions, and “moral weakening” or when he signaled his awareness of the “anger, anxiety, and doubts” that continue to plague French voters.

By the same token, though, Macron lifted spirits when he acknowledged the absolute necessity of international cooperation in combating climate change. Given how brief his address was, it is significant that he made sure to include a promise that France would vigorously pursue its fight against global warming. Victory speeches are supposed to be big, broad, general, and sweeping; they’re a place for stipulating political mandates, not articulating policy details. By emphasizing climate change in the way that he did, Macron was letting France and the world know that the issue is at the highest level of importance—for him, for his country, and for humanity.

Meanwhile at the White House, Trump seems to vacillate between pulling the United States out of the Paris climate agreement entirely and having us remain a reluctant signatory to the pact, a participant in name only. The contrast is jarring. In France we see early glimpses of real leadership; in Washington we see a lazy man’s version of gamesmanship. At a moment when the American president should be refining our own sweeping call to action in anticipation of this week’s international climate conference in Bonn, Germany, he’s scheduling—then canceling—meetings with his top advisers about whether to stay in the climate treaty. The result: chaos.

These recent events may, for a while at least, be an apt representation of the new international dynamic. Other world leaders move forward in good faith, discussing and debating the best ways to limit the global temperature rise to well below 2 degrees Celsius over preindustrial levels—while our own country’s leader stalls, complains, threatens, and otherwise illustrates his utter disdain for the entire process. In less than two years, the United States has gone from climate spearhead to climate deadbeat.

President Trump clearly relishes his image as a political outsider. But he also likes belonging to exclusive clubs. In January he became a member of one of the most exclusive clubs in the world―one whose membership has a great say in determining the policies, actions, and reactions that will shape the future of the planet. If he comes back from Italy and promptly abandons our climate commitments, it will be a disturbing sign that he has chosen to abandon the role of a G7 world leader in favor of a different, and far less illustrious, one: reckless iconoclast.

onEarth provides reporting and analysis about environmental science, policy, and culture. All opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of NRDC. Learn more or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

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