PARIS — The world is witnessing an unprecedented diplomatic event. America is retreating as the world faces one of the most serious issues of our time — climate change. It's deciding not to exert its leadership. It will be neither model nor guide. This continent-sized country is shrinking and retreating into itself, as it accuses others of wanting to do it harm. Through Donald Trump's voice, it was Charles Lindbergh's 1940 America that was speaking yesterday in Washington.
By reneging on the commitments made and passionately defended by Barack Obama, America is leaving the Paris accord on the fight against greenhouse gas emissions. It's fleeing the battle for the climate. It won't take part in the efforts agree to together with the 194 other nations that signed the agreement. It reckons it no longer has any obligations in this respect — neither technical nor financial. America considers that its economic development would be hampered. That, at least, is what Mr. Trump said.
This childish relapse is in and of itself already a landmark. Perhaps it's one of those watershed moments that make it clear that, unlike the 20th century, the 21st won't be an "American century." But what makes it all the more remarkable is that it comes at the same time as another movement: faced with the vacant leadership, Europe is trying to exist. Last week in Munich, German Chancellor Angela Merkel set the tone. She was drawing the conclusions from a NATO summit in Brussels and a G7 meeting in Italy, both occasions in which Donald Trump had huddled up into his attitude that mixes hostility and isolationism. Europeans, said the Chancellor, should therefore "take their fate into their own hands."
On Thursday evening, following up that surprising episode, it was French President Emmanuel Macron's turn to draw his conclusions from the U.S." withdrawal. Without the decisive momentum brought by Barack Obama and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping, the Paris accord, signed in December 2015, would probably never have seen the light of day. But a lot of credit also goes to then French President François Hollande and his Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius. As the host of this global agreement, France was and remains on the frontline for the battle to protect the environment.
From one leadership to another
As such, President Macron, in an unprecedented initiative, made a statement — in French and in English — to say there won't be a "plan B," no renegotiation, and to call on the 194 countries to stay true to the agreement they laboriously reached. A few moments later, Germans and Italians were joining the French in defending this stance in a joint statement. This was the outline of a European response to America's failure, the shift from one form of leadership to another.
"A defeatist America is no good" — Photo: Mike Maguire
A staunch climate-change denier, Trump had chosen the enchanting setting of the White House Rose Garden to announce he was pulling the U.S. from the accord. With a nasty tone, using caricature and lies, the President painted the U.S. as the victim of the capacity and unfair ingratitude of the other countries — developing countries, such as China and India, who were granted delays in implementing the agreement, Europeans, and especially the Germans who, he said, "cost America trillions of dollars through tough trade practices' while having "lax contributions to our critical military alliance."
Donald Trump claims to be defending the American economy. He thumbs his nose at the United States' historic responsibility regarding climate change, as the world's second-biggest emitter of greenhouse gases. He must have got confused about what time we're living in: Energy transition is pushed by a technological evolution that constantly brings down the cost of renewable energies. Big American companies and the mayors of the country's biggest cities have understood this. And as far as they're concerned, they're intent on resisting the White House to follow the Paris agreement's recommendations.
But implementing the accord, which relies on the signatories' good will, will be more difficult. It will be a matter of political momentum, of leadership. As the world's oldest democracy, the world's biggest economy and leader in technology, the United States will be cruelly missed in the battle for the climate. A defeatist America is no good: neither for Americans, nor for the rest of the world.