President Donald Trump skipped a session devoted to climate change at the G7 summit here, a snub aides wrote off as a scheduling conflict but nonetheless reflects Trump’s isolation on the issue.
As other leaders were taking their seats around a large round table, the chair reserved for Trump sat empty. The summit’s host, French President Emmanuel Macron, gaveled the meeting to order anyway and launched into an explanation of a wrist watch made from recycled plastic.
Later, the White House said Trump’s schedule prevented his attendance.
“The President had scheduled meetings and bilaterals with Germany and India, so a senior member of the Administration attended in his stead,” press secretary Stephanie Grisham said.
But the leaders of both those countries – German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi – were both seen attending, at least for the start of the session.
An official said the staffer who replaced Trump worked for the National Security Council.
Speaking afterward, Macron seemed to shrug off Trump’s absence.
“He wasn’t in the room, but his team was,” Macron said at a news conference. He urged reporters not to read too much into Trump’s decision to skip the session, insisting the US is aligned with the rest of the G7 on issues of biodiversity and combating fires in the Amazon rainforest.
Still, Macron acknowledged Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris climate accord – a move that angered European nations, who remain part of the pact. Macron said it was no longer his goal to convince Trump to return to the agreement.
In the lead-up to the G7, Trump’s aides said he wasn’t entirely interested in the climate portions of the summit, believing them a waste of time compared to discussion of the economy.
After past G7s, Trump complained that too much time was spent on issues he deemed unimportant, like clearing oceans of plastics.
But Macron made climate one of the main focuses of this year’s gathering anyway, scheduling the session on Monday and insisting the leaders address the Amazon fires.
That was bound to create divisions between Trump and the other leaders. Trump has loosened environmental regulations in the United States, even as he claims that water and air are at their cleanest levels ever.