Merkel: G7 Leaders Had 'Controversial' Debate on Climate Change With Trump

Everyone at the table urged Trump to back the Paris Accords, Merkel says; Italian PM: We're sure U.S. will also commit after internal reflection

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, U.S. President Donald Trump and other leaders at the G7 summit in Taormina, Sicily, Italy, May 26, 2017
BPA/REUTERS

Group of Seven leaders had a "controversial" debate on climate change, German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters on Friday, with U.S. President Donald Trump urged by everyone at the table to back the Paris Accords. 

Earlier, Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni said Trump was still considering the matter, but added that he believed Washington would in the end honor its commitment to cut greenhouse gas emissions under the 2015 Paris Agreement. 

But there was agreement on other issues such as Syria, Libya and fighting terrorism, Paolo Gentiloni told reporters in Taormina, Italy, where the heads of the world's seven major industrialized economies are meeting. 

"There is one open question, which is the U.S. position on the Paris climate accords... All others have confirmed their total agreement on the accord," Gentiloni said. "We are sure that after an internal reflection, the United States will also want to commit to it," he added. 

Trump's views on climate change are "evolving" following discussions with European leaders who are pushing for him to stay in the Paris climate accord, a top White House official said Friday.

"He feels much more knowledgeable on the topic today," said Gary Cohn, Trump's top White House economic adviser. "He came here to learn, he came here to get smarter."

The White House's slow decision-making on the future of the landmark 2015 climate change agreement created the opening for the European leaders' persuasion campaign. Multiple White House meetings on the matter were delayed in recent weeks, and Trump advisers ultimately said he would not make a decision until after he returns to Washington from a nine-day, five-stop international trip.

As a candidate, Trump vowed to withdraw the U.S. from the accord, which was negotiated during the Obama administration. But as the opening months of his presidency have shown, Trump can be moved to change his positions and can be heavily influenced by other world leaders. He backed away from his tough campaign talk about trade with China after a summit with President Xi Jinping and abandoned his criticism of Saudi Arabia's human rights record following his warm welcome in the desert kingdom earlier this week.

Cohn said Trump was struck during his discussions Friday by "how important it is for the United States to show leadership." He said many of the European leaders noted that even if a hundred countries are parties to an agreement, there's "a big gap when you take the biggest economy out."

In Washington, discussions over the climate deal have sown divisions within the White House, splitting the nationalists and the globalists competing for influence within Trump's administration. One potential compromise that's emerged in the White House discussions involves staying in the climate accord, but adjusting the U.S. emissions targets.