When the Group of Seven (G7) summit decided on a $20 million package to combat the Amazon rainforest fires on Aug. 26, President Trump was not in the room. With six out of seven world leaders present, it was pretty clear that climate change was one of, if not the, most urgent international issues to tackle. However, while the White House has said his absence had nothing to do with policy, it’s hard to overlook the coincidence — especially when new reports claim the Trump administration criticized the G7’s climate change agenda as “niche” and a departure from tradition. The White House did not immediately respond to Elite Daily’s requests for comment on the report, or the administration's stance on addressing climate change at the forum.
Senior administration officials allegedly never really wanted the environment to be a big topic at this year’s summit in the first place, The New York Times reported on Aug. 24. Climate change, alongside African development and income and gender equality, was an issue that Trump aides reportedly slammed as being designed for French President Emmanuel Macron’s domestic audience. According to The New York Times, anonymous White House officials alleged that the G7 agenda purposely drew attention to discrepancies between the two administrations and overlooked more important global issues. Elite Daily reached out to representatives of Macron for comment, but did not immediately hear back.
For Larry Kudlow, director of the National Economic Council, this was the economy. In an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal on Aug. 23, Kudlow specifically targeted France and Macron for prioritizing “politically correct bromides” over core issues that he claimed are central to the summit’s mission. “[G7] leaders should again take a hard look at the U.S. economy and ask why we succeed while they stagnate,” Kudlow wrote.
Anonymous administration officials also told Bloomberg that France allegedly ignored U.S. input on the economy, and only changed the original summit schedule to include economic issues after receiving complaints. French officials, on the other hand, responded that there were no significant tensions leading up to the summit.
The G7 is an organization of major economies, with the seven member nations representing the "major advanced economies" of the globe, as described by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The purpose of the G7 meeting is to keep tabs on economic trends and discuss policy, so it's not off-base that an administration might want to keep things tight to economic policy. However, the worsening climate crisis is threatening to become a major economic issue, with experts predicting that the impacts of the changing climate will run into the billions of dollars. An April 2019 study from Yale University estimated a cost of "hundreds of billions" by 2090, unless carbon emissions are reduced. Simultaneously, the ongoing disastrous fires in the Amazon have threatened the rainforest nicknamed the "lungs of the planet," leading to widespread alarm about the effects on the climate and prompting world leaders to commit $20 million to fighting the fires at the G7.
After it was reported that Trump skipped out on the climate change session, White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham said that the meeting had been attended by a senior administration official in the president's stead, and Trump had been at previously scheduled meetings with German and Indian leaders. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi both attended the climate session.
The relatively peaceful summit so far may be a sign of restraint on both ends, but either way, Trump’s diplomacy is surely a departure from some of his past troubles with world leaders. He appeared to show no signs of his administration's reported complaints after his arrival in Biarritz, France, and even accepted a reportedly unplanned lunch invitation from Macron.
While Trump appears chummy with the French president — and even Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Merkel, with whom he has much rockier histories — it’s unlikely to change much on U.S. policy at this summit. That being said, the reported claims go far beyond a single weekend. Though improbable, we can at least pretend to hope that Trump's absence was a mere scheduling blip, which is a slightly more comforting alternative at a time when climate change seems to be the farthest thing from "niche."