World News

Macron holds a climate summit, and trump casts a shadow

Posted December 12, 2017 8:28 p.m. EST

BOULOGNE-BILLANCOURT, France — Money was on everybody’s mind at the climate summit meeting organized here on Tuesday, as President Emmanuel Macron of France tried to shore up support for the Paris climate deal by urging heads of state, chief executives and investors to commit more funding to the fight against global warming.

But the gathering was overshadowed by President Donald Trump’s promise to pull the United States out of the deal, a move that has cast doubt on the ability of the international community to meet the emission goals that were set two years ago when the pact was adopted.

“We are losing the battle,” Macron said in his speech opening the talks. He called Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris deal “very bad news,” but added that “many have decided to not necessarily accept the American federal government’s decision to leave the Paris agreement.”

“Second, we are not going fast enough,” Macron said. “What we are starting today is the time of action, because the urgency has become permanent and the challenge of our generation is to act.”

Several announcements by states, companies and international organizations were made at the meeting, aimed at helping industries and poorer countries reduce their greenhouse-gas emissions and at shifting private investment away from fossil fuels toward cleaner, renewable energies.

The World Bank, one of the organizers of the meeting, said it would no longer finance oil and gas exploration and extraction projects after 2019, with exceptions for poorer countries. Ma Kai, a vice premier of China, said that his country would start its own carbon market in the coming days. And Axa, the global insurance giant, announced that it would phase out insurance coverage “for new coal construction projects and oil sands businesses.”

Other announcements included the creation of a space observatory for climate research, a five-year initiative of 220 global investors to step up pressure on the 100 companies that emit the most greenhouse gas, and the start of a carbon pricing market, initiated by Mexico, to connect different regions of the Americas that have put a price tag on carbon, including California, Quebec and Ontario.

But the leaders at the summit meeting did not announce new binding requirements to curb carbon emissions and did not unlock significant new funds to help developing countries transition away from fossil fuel economies.

Jovenel Moise, the president of Haiti, said that richer countries were lagging in their commitments. Industrialized nations have pledged to provide $100 billion a year by 2020 to help developing countries reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and address the effects of climate change.

“Hurricanes aren’t going to wait for Haiti, an island country,” Moise said. (While the relationship between climate change and hurricanes is complicated, it is becoming clear that a warming planet will produce wetter storms and that rising sea levels will worsen the impact of storm surges.)

Critics called the announcements a vague laundry list of promises, and said that too much public and private funding continued to finance fossil fuels. The criticism comes on the heels of the climate conference in Bonn, Germany, which wrapped up last month with only modest accomplishments.

“We left Bonn with the feeling that the job was unfinished,” said Lucile Dufour, who follows international negotiations on climate change for Réseau Action Climat, a French advocacy group. “States made big speeches, but without any concrete or ambitious measures.”

Tuesday’s meeting left her with a similar impression, she said. “The urgency is there in the speeches, but the announcements aren’t.”

Still, some said the summit meeting Tuesday showed increased awareness of climate change issues at the business and local level.

“Cities, regions, companies — everybody is asking what has to be done,” said Laurence Tubiana, who was France’s top climate change envoy at the 2015 talks in Paris. “That is a big change.”

More than 50 heads of state and government attended the gathering, held in a new performing arts center shaped like a sailboat that sits on an island on the Seine southwest of Paris.

Attendees included United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres; Prime Minister Theresa May of Britain; President Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico; and Gov. Jerry Brown of California. The official U.S. representative was D. Brent Hardt, chargé d’affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Paris.

Businesspeople and philanthropists like Michael Bloomberg and Bill Gates also attended, as did the heads of multinational corporations and banking institutions, and celebrities like Sean Penn.

The Paris climate deal was reached in December 2015, when nearly every country in the world agreed to reduce emissions of planet-warming greenhouse gases. Since then, Nicaragua and Syria, two holdouts in 2015, have said they would join the agreement, leaving only the United States opposed.

Macron has been one of the most vocal world leaders trying to fill the void left by Trump. In an interview with CBS News that aired Monday, the French president said the United States’ withdrawal had created “huge momentum” that helped him “create a countermomentum.”

Calling Trump’s decision to leave the accord “extremely aggressive,” he repeated warnings made in September at the U.N. General Assembly that he would not renegotiate the Paris agreement with Trump. But Macron added, “I’m ready to welcome him if he decides to come back.”

Americans at the meeting — several of whom were also present in Bonn as a kind of shadow delegation — were dismissive of Trump, arguing that the president’s position on climate change would help rally those in favor of action against global warming.

Brown said the effort in the United States to fight climate change was being led “from the cities, from the states, from corporate leaders, from universities.”

“We have a climate denier in the White House who says climate change is a hoax, that there is no evidence, that it is a total fantasy — but there it is,” Brown said. “We can’t wait for the White House to wake up.”