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Opinion

Opinion: Macron takes the lead

The young French president has decided to save the planet. He has put Donald Trump in his place, and is also taking advantage of the current vacuum that has opened up in Berlin's absence, says Jens Thurau.

Another climate summit? A few weeks ago, representatives gathered in Bonn, Germany, to work their way through the details of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement. They passed arcane resolutions, the effects of which will not be known for years.

Read more: 'Make Our Planet Great Again' grants awarded ahead of climate summit

But French President Emmanuel Macron knows how to make headlines. He has decided to use the second anniversary of the signing of the UN's Paris Climate Accord as an opportunity to present himself as the leader of the global climate movement. He is doing so by staging a one-day summit with an illustrious guest list: British Prime Minister Theresa May will attend, and likely be happy to talk about something other than Brexit; Prince Albert of Monaco will be there; as will Bill Gates from the USA; and Social Democrat (SPD) Barbara Hendricks, Germany's environmental minister, will attend as well – but Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) will not.

A summit without Angela Merkel

It is odd that Merkel will not attend. For years, she has been the keeper of the Holy Grail in terms of international climate protection. Twenty years ago, when she was Germany's environmental minister, she helped get the first such climate treaty, the Kyoto Protocol, off the ground. Since she first became chancellor twelve years ago, she has a consistently presented Germany as a trailblazer when attending major climate summits.

But now Macron is playing that role. A few weeks ago, at the Bonn Conference, he and a few other government leaders made the brash announcement that they would rid themselves of coal as a source of energy. That is easier for him to do than it is for Merkel, because France still produces a large portion of its energy with nuclear power. And now he has even organized his own "One Planet Summit," specifically geared toward dealing with issues surrounding climate financing.

Harsh criticism of Donald Trump

Macron used the attention he was granted ahead of the summit to send a few clear messages to Washington. And he specifically addressed his "good friend, the president" during an interview with CBS Evening News, an American television news program. Macron made very clear that there was no way the Paris Climate Agreement would not be renegotiated as Trump has often said would be the case. Macron described Trump's unilateral decision to withdraw the US from the agreement as "extremely aggressive." The French leader also said he was confident that Trump would eventually change his mind, adding that he was ready to welcome him if he decided to come back.

Currently, Angela Merkel is grappling with an overly frustrated delegation of Social Democrats in Berlin in an attempt to resuscitate the ruling grand coalition for another legislative period. Thus, she has no time to be a climate protection leader; moreover, she faced stiff criticism in Bonn over Germany's massive carbon emissions.

Something is changing in Europe

Macron previously made headlines with his "Make Our Planet Great Again" rebuttal of Trump's jingoistic "Make America Great America" mantra. Such slogans are not Merkel's style. Add to that the fact that she is short on time, and has less convincing arguments–especially if Germany is to fall miserably short of achieving its 2020 climate aims–and it is easy to see that things are changing in Europe. That is certainly the case with climate protection, other topics are sure to follow ...

 

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Climate Change: 'One Planet' summit takes place in Paris

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