PARIS — Taking up the cudgel on climate change in the face of American opposition, President Emmanuel Macron of France threatened Wednesday not to sign any joint statement from the Group of 20 summit in Japan this week unless it deals with the issue, which he called a “red line.”
In a rebuke of American officials, Mr. Macron emphasized the importance of reiterating support for the Paris climate agreement of 2015, from which President Trump has vowed to withdraw the United States.
“If we don’t speak about the Paris Agreement, and if, to come to an agreement in a meeting of 20, we are no longer able to defend our climate goals, it will be without France,” Mr. Macron told a group of French citizens in Tokyo. “It’s simple,” Mr. Macron said. “It will be without France,” he repeated.
“We cannot, at home, be under pressure from our youth, and rightly so,” Mr. Macron said, referring to student marches on the environment in France and elsewhere in Europe. He also alluded to the Trump administration’s rejection of the accord without naming Mr. Trump. “That some won’t sign, that’s their business. But we shouldn’t collectively lose our ambitions,” he said.
Mr. Macron’s statement in Tokyo came a day after his own advisory panel on climate declared that France was far from meeting its own goals on the reduction of greenhouse gases and other factors that increase global warming. The panel found that vehicle emissions were especially past their targets — a difficult problem for Mr. Macron, who faced protests over a fuel tax last year.
From a diplomatic perspective, Mr. Macron may be giving Mr. Trump a taste of his own medicine: At the Group of 20 summit in Buenos Aires last November, the United States insisted on including its own language about its decision to pull out of the Paris agreement. But the French president’s strong words about climate change in Tokyo Wednesday also emerge from a significantly changed situation at home and abroad for Mr. Macron.
Internationally, he has largely abandoned an initial effort to woo Mr. Trump, having been rewarded with little besides mockery at home for making nice to an American president largely detested by the French. His relationship with Mr. Trump, once full of bonhomie, has soured and become strained.
Domestically, the environmentalist party in France, the Greens, did surprisingly well in the recent European elections, finishing ahead of the country’s traditional left and right parties. And the Greens have become the principal party for the country’s 18 to 34 year olds.
Recent speeches by Mr. Macron and his prime minister, Édouard Philippe, have had a decidedly green tinge, not coincidentally. At the same time, the French government remains acutely aware that the Yellow Vest uprising last winter was touched off by a rise in the gasoline tax, part of an effort to fight climate change. Mr. Macron’s government suspended the tax, and wants to avoid provoking new protests.
In a speech to Parliament two weeks ago Mr. Philippe told the representatives that “the next 12 months will see a speeding-up on ecology,” with, among other measures, initiatives on plastic recycling and a renewed emphasis on renewable energy sources.
Mr. Macron’s clear break with Mr. Trump was signaled last fall with a fervent plea for multilateralism at the United Nations and an Armistice Day speech denouncing nationalism. The American president sat through that speech with a grim expression, and days later responded with a personal attack on his French counterpart.
“The image of Macron suffered” with his attempts to court Mr. Trump, said Laurence Nardon, a specialist in French-American relations at the French Institute for International Relations. “Some said he was naïve,” she said. “And now he’s got nothing to lose by showing himself to be tough. And maybe in the end Trump has greater respect for partners who are tough.”
Mr. Macron’s rebuff to the American position on climate change also takes place in the context of French anger and alarm over Mr. Trump’s posture toward Iran. French officials have expressed their fears that the current confrontation could lead to war, and voiced their sharp disagreement with the United States’ withdrawal from the nuclear accord with Iran.