France Steps on Climate Accelerator as U.S. Allies Sidestep Trump


France said Monday that the global fight against climate change was irreversible and could even be accelerated, despite Donald Trump's decision to pull the United States out of the Paris accord on carbon emissions.

Joining other G7 environment chiefs at talks in Italy, French minister Nicolas Hulot said U.S. allies were determined not to let Trump's controversial climate stance "poison" cooperation on other ecological issues, and said the world could work around the U.S. position, even though it is a damaging one.

"The only legal framework for climate negotiations is the accord and objectives fixed in Paris and there is no doubt that they are irreversible," said Hulot, a former TV star and a longstanding environmental campaigner who was persuaded to enter government by new French President Emmanuel Macron.

Hulot said US commitments on other environmental issues, notably cleaning up the world's plastic-choked oceans, were not in doubt, and the commitment of industry players to green technologies and renewable energy would not be affected by Trump's position.

While acknowledging that Trump's ending of U.S. financing for developing countries affected by climate change was an important setback, he said France and other countries were looking at ways of compensating through multilateral banks.

"We have to stay prudent and not fall into catastrophism. The transition to a low-carbon economy is on the march and it has an irreversible dynamic, including in the United States," he said in comments that played on the name of Macron's "En Marche!" movement.

- 'Positive engagement' -

"Now we want to try and accelerate rather than hit the brakes," Hulot added, promising to step up carbon-curbing overhauls at a national and European level.

As at a meeting of G7 leaders attended by Trump in Sicily last month, the two-day meeting in Bologna ended with the U.S. disassociating itself from the final communique's section on climate change.

In a footnote, the U.S. said it was showing its commitment to a reduced C02 footprint by achieving pre-1994 levels of the gas.

"The United States will continue to engage with key international partners in a manner that is consistent with our domestic priorities, preserving both a strong economy and a healthy environment," the note read. "Accordingly, we the United States do not join those sections of the communique on climate and MDBs, reflecting our recent announcement to withdraw and immediately cease implementation of the Paris Agreement and associated financial commitments."

Trump was represented in Bologna by Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt, who flew home at the end of the first day after insisting that the U.S. was continuing to seek "positive engagement" with its partners in the club of wealthy democracies.

"The United States has always been a world leader when it comes to environmental stewardship," Pruitt said in a statement.

Hulot added: "Symbolically it is important that the U.S. remains in an environmentalist dynamic, even if it wants to maintain a degree of latitude on climate change and prefers a bilateral approach to a multilateral one on that issue."

Pruitt left early to attend Trump's first full cabinet meeting on Monday.

Hulot's comments about the irreversibility of the deal struck in Paris in 2015 were echoed by other senior officials in Bologna. 

Erik Solheim, head of the U.N. Environment Program, said Sunday that the six other G7 countries shared an "absolute determination" to keep climate action on track "whatever happens in the White House."

- Unprecedented devastation -

Patricia Espinosa, the U.N. official in charge of implementing the Paris accord, emphasized that the U.S. could not take any concrete steps to exit Paris for three years, under the terms of the accord - a view the White House does not appear to share. 

Trump announced this month that the U.S. would not be bound by Paris targets on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, saying they were unfairly damaging to the American economy and overly generous to India and China.

The Paris accord is aimed at capping the increase in global temperatures at two degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels.

Scientists warn that the alternative is unprecedented devastation as sea levels rise and extreme storms, droughts and heatwaves becoming more common, endangering crops and fragile environments with knock-on effects in the form of new conflicts and mass movements of people escaping affected areas.