BIARRITZ, France — U.S. President Donald Trump skipped a discussion on climate with other world leaders at the Group of Seven summit in France, leaving an empty chair as global power brokers debated how to help the fire-ravaged Amazon and reduce carbon emissions.
Trump was scheduled to attend Monday’s session on climate, biodiversity and oceans at the G-7 summit in Biarritz, but didn’t. French President Emmanuel Macron, the summit host, said Trump’s aides were there instead.
Trump is a climate change skeptic who once had claimed it’s a hoax that was invented by the Chinese. His decision to withdraw the United States from the 2015 Paris climate accord has severely damaged global efforts to reduce emissions.
Trump started the morning behind schedule, and held one-on-one meetings while others were in the climate discussions. However, one of his interlocutors, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, managed to make it to the climate meeting.
Trump then met with India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, where he was asked about attending the climate session. Trump said it would be his next stop and that he wants clean air and water.
But he never showed up.
Later, responding to a question about climate change, Trump said that American wealth is based on energy and he will not jeopardize that for “dreams and windmills.”
“I feel that the United States has tremendous wealth. The wealth is under its feet. I’ve made that wealth come alive. … We are now the number one energy producer in the world, and soon it will be by far,” Trump told reporters.
“I’m not going to lose that wealth, I’m not going to lose it on dreams, on windmills, which frankly aren’t working too well.”
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Macron shrugged off Trump’s absence from the G7 session on the issue, saying it wasn’t his goal to try to persuade Trump to rejoin the climate accord.
“You can’t rewrite the past,” Macron told reporters.
But Macron said he and Trump had a “long, rich and totally positive” discussion on the Amazon fires and an international effort to invest in “re-foresting” the area.
G-7 countries pledged $20 million on Monday to help fight fires in the Amazon rainforest, which threaten its ability to capture carbon released into the atmosphere by cars and other emitters. It’s a small sum overall but G-7 summit host France hopes it will bring more attention to the fires.
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U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres – who attended Monday’s climate talks – expressed hope that Americans themselves would help fight climate change even if their president doesn’t.
“I am very optimistic about American society and its capacity to deliver in relation to climate action,” he told reporters afterward. “What matters here is to have a strong engagement of the American society and of the American business community and the American local authorities.”
— David McHugh in Biarritz, France, contributed to this report.