Pope Lends Weight to G-7 Push to Bind Trump to Climate Deal
(Bloomberg) -- Pope Francis joined an international chorus urging Donald Trump to meet U.S. commitments on climate change in talks at the Vatican Wednesday.
Francis gave the U.S. president a copy of his 2015 encyclical calling for urgent, drastic cuts in fossil-fuel emissions after a half-hour meeting in his private study.
Francis’s choice of gift suggests he is adding his voice to those pressing Trump not to renege on the Paris accord, which is the cornerstone of global efforts to limit climate change. The Vatican said in a statement that the talks focused on international affairs and the promotion of peace, with particular emphasis on health care, education and immigration.
“Thank you, thank you,” Trump told Francis as they shook hands after the meeting. “I won’t forget what you said.” Trump has said climate change might be a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese.
For his part, Trump gave Francis a special edition of the works of U.S. civil rights leader Martin Luther King.
Trump met with Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni later on Wednesday before he travels to Brussels for a NATO meeting. He’ll be back in Italy again on Friday for talks with Group of Seven leaders in Taormina, Sicily. The world’s biggest developed economies are expecting Trump to say whether he’ll keep the U.S. in the Paris climate accord during the summit, Germany’s environment minister Barbara Hendricks, said Monday.
French President Emmanuel Macron will push Trump over climate during the NATO meeting as part of a coordinated European effort to sway the president, a French government official said on Wednesday morning, adding that he had expected the pope and Gentiloni also to raise the issue. The official said that the questions over what the U.S. will decide have led to unprecedented uncertainty over what the G-7 will be able to say in its final communique.
Members of the Trump administration have been deadlocked over whether the U.S. should uphold the pact, brokered by nearly 200 nations in 2015. Leaders from Germany, China and other nations have pushed for America to stay.
Pressure has also come from business groups, including 280 investors representing more than $17 trillion in assets who released a statement Monday saying climate change must be an “urgent priority” for all G-20 nations. Executives have warned that Trump would put U.S. companies at a disadvantage if he pulled out of the pact.
As the richest nation and the second-largest polluter, U.S. efforts are central to keeping climate change from hitting an irreversible tipping point, unleashing catastrophic floods, droughts and storms, according to researchers. The U.S. has pledged to reduce its emissions by at least 26 percent from 2005 levels under the world’s broadest ever environmental agreement.
The meeting at the Vatican was the first between two leaders who have starkly differing views on a range of issues and was arranged at Trump’s request. Beyond their disagreements on the environment, Francis wants the world’s doors swung open to refugees, while Trump wants fewer of them in America. Income inequality is a serious concern for the pope -- the billionaire president plans to rewrite the U.S. tax code to make the wealthy even richer.
For the president, it’s an encounter that may confer some legitimacy as he grapples with a political crisis back home. For Francis, it’s a chance to influence a leader who, for all his stumbles, remains the most powerful person in the world.
“There’s a whole range of issues on which the pope and Trump differ, but the point of their meeting isn’t to forge agreement on them or to change each other’s minds,” papal biographer Austen Ivereigh said in a telephone interview. “The point is to establish a bond of trust, which they can both call on in the future to further their agendas.”
Symbol of Peace
Francis arrived at the courtyard of the Apostolic Palace in a Ford Focus and entered the building through a side entrance. Ten minutes later, the president’s motorcade was greeted by Swiss Guards who stood to attention with their halberds and ostrich-plumed helmets. The pope welcomed Trump upstairs in the Sala del Tronetto before the two leaders retired to his private study for a half-hour conversation.
“It was an honor to be with the pope,” Trump told reporters later in the morning. “We had a fantastic meeting,” he added, without addressing a shouted question on whether they discussed climate change.
As well as the text on environmental protection, which Francis said he’s sent to all Roman Catholics, the pope also gave Trump books on family and the joy of the gospel.
“I’ll be reading them,” the president told him.
He also gave Trump a medal made by a Roman artist depicting an olive. The pope told Trump the olive is a symbol of peace.
“That’s so beautiful,” the president said. “We can use peace.”