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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 21 June 2018

Macron burnishes credentials as leader in fight against global warming

The French president took centre stage at a gathering of world leaders – with a couple of notable absentees

French President Emmanuel Macron is shown on a big screen as he delivers a speech at the One Planet Summit. Eric FEFERBERG/AFP
French President Emmanuel Macron is shown on a big screen as he delivers a speech at the One Planet Summit. Eric FEFERBERG/AFP

French President Emmanuel Macron claimed the vacant position of world leader against global warming on Tuesday as he rallied nations, bankers and philanthropists to promote greater investment in countries at greatest risk from the effects of climate change.

The meeting in Paris came two years after nearly 200 governments agreed to end their reliance on fossil fuels and in the absence of President Donald Trump, who pulled the United States out of the deal in June.

Mr Macron, 39, did not invite Mr Trump to the ‘One Planet’ summit but his absence dominated proceedings. Replacements from the US who did turn up – including Bill Gates, Elon Musk and movie star Sean Penn and former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger – lined up to take pot shots at the president over his record on the issue.

“Donald Trump pulled Donald Trump out of the Paris agreement, so don't worry about that,” said Mr Schwarzenegger on the eve of the event. “The private sector didn't drop out, the public sector didn't drop out, the universities didn't drop out, the scientists didn't drop out, the engineers didn't drop out ... No one else dropped out.”

The jabs and jibes continued from other senior US figures including former US Secretary of State, John Kerry, said that the world would shift to cleaner fuels and reduce emissions regardless of what the Trump administration did.

Michael Bloomberg, the former New York mayor, says environmentalists owed Trump a debt of gratitude for acting as a rallying point for action on climate change. He said a private sector coalition that promises to honour the 2015 goals represented half of the US economy.

The criticisms of Mr Trump came as organisers sought to show that progress had been made despite his withdrawal from the Paris climate accord based on his “America first” principles of promoting trade and belief that global warming is a hoax.

It was also an opportunity for Mr Macron to burnish his credentials as the coordinator of international efforts to tackle climate change in the absence of US leadership under Mr Trump.

On Monday, Mr Macron awarded grants to 18 climate scientists, most of them based in the US, to relocate to France for the rest of Mr Trump’s term in office. The contest was announced just hours after Mr Trump announced the pull-out from the treaty.

The two men have previous. Macron demonstrated his resolve in dealing with the United States in his first meeting face-to-face meetings with Donald Trump in Brussels in May when he refused to let go of his hand during a long handshake in front of the cameras.

Mr Macron later described the handshake as “a moment of truth” and told French media he wanted to show “he would not make small concessions, not even symbolic ones”.

Mr Macron hosted leading world philanthropists Tuesday morning to encourage more climate-related investment.

The meeting saw some significant financial pledges towards renewable energy but was largely symbolic, rather than announcing any significant shifts in international policy.

A group of 225 investment funds managing more than $26 trillion in assets promised to pressure companies to curb their greenhouse gas emissions and to disclose climate-related financial information. The group says it will focus on 100 of the world's largest corporate greenhouse gas emitters.

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The announcements masked stuttering progress made in tackling the problem. Global greenhouse gas emissions are set to rise by two percent this year driven by growth in China – the world’s biggest polluter - after a standstill for several years, according to the Financial Times. The rise threatens ambitions in the Paris agreement to hold the increase in global average temperature to within 2C of pre-industrial levels.

Climate change officials say that the financial system isn’t moving quickly enough to energy projects that do not damage the environment. Developing nations say the rich are lagging with a commitment dating back to 2009 to provide $100 billion a year by 2020 - from public and private sources alike - to help them switch from fossil fuels to greener energy sources and adapt to the effects of climate change.

“The missing piece of the jigsaw is the funding to help the world’s poorer countries access clean energy so they don’t follow the fossil fuel-powered path of the rich world,” said Mohamed Adow, the lead on climate change for charity Christian Aid.

During a round of media interviews, Mr Macron said that he saw French leadership on climate-change related issues as an opportunity to attract investment and to champion his view that successful economies of the future would make and use renewable energy rather than pump oil. The US decision to withdraw from the Paris climate deal had energised private investment, cities and states to take over the leadership role on the issue, he said.

“If we decide not to move and not change our way to produce, to invest, to behave, we will be responsible for billions of victims,” Mr Macron, a former investment banker, told CBS television.

The invitation-only event included more than 50 heads of state and government. One notable absentee was Angela Merkel, the leader of Germany, once dubbed the Climate Chancellor for her attempts to tackle the issue.

Mr Macron appeared to be overtaking Mrs Merkel as Europe's leading lobbyist on climate issues, said Annalena Baerbock of the opposition Green party. “I think that's not a good sign,” she said.