Want the best of VICE News straight to your inbox? Sign up here.
As the leaders of the G7 nations gathered Monday for a meeting on climate change, biodiversity and the enormous fires tearing through the Amazon, there was an empty chair where President Donald Trump should have been.
Asked later in the day about the meeting, the president replied, “We’re having it in a little while,” seeming unaware he’d already missed it.
The White House later tried to make sense of Trump’s off-the-cuff excuse. “The president had scheduled meetings and bilaterals with Germany and India, so a senior member of the administration attended in his stead,” said press secretary Stephanie Grisham. That explanation, however, doesn’t exactly square with Trump’s seeming confusion about the meeting, which the other leaders attended.
During the meeting, world leaders committed to create a $20 million fund to fight the fires in the Brazilian Amazon, where there were 80,626 nationwide as of Sunday night, according to the latest official figures. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, whose policies have been criticized for accelerating deforestation in the Amazon and increasing fire risk, sent fighter jets to dump thousands of gallons of water in a desperate attempt to slow the flames.
Read: Brazilian Warplanes Are Trying to Soak the Burning Amazon
Trump’s conspicuous absence was emblematic of an awkward weekend for the president, full of false starts, confusing threats, and conflicting messages. And though French President Emmanuel Macron sought to focus the summit on climate change, leaders made little progress on that front. The U.S. didn’t help. Senior U.S. officials worried in the lead-up to the meeting that Macron was seeking to embarrass the U.S. by focusing on the “niche issues” such as climate change and gender equality, according to the New York Times.
Macron, for his part, told reporters after the climate meeting that, though Trump wasn’t there, some of his advisers were, and insisted that Trump “shares our objectives.”
While he insists Trump wants to get on board with his climate plans, there is one big climate fight that Macron has given up on: Getting Trump to rejoin the Paris climate agreement, the landmark multilateral deal to curb global carbon emissions, which Trump abandoned in June of 2017.
“When it comes to the Paris Agreement, we know his position. It has always been clear, and it is not an objective of the French presidency to convince him otherwise,” Macron said. “We did have that objective at the outset prior to his withdrawing from the agreement, but it was not our objective at the G7.”
Trump, at the end of the summit, was asked what he thought should be done about climate change. He boasted about U.S. oil production and claimed to be “an environmentalist.”
Cover: From the left, French President Emmanuel Macron, Egyptian President and Chairman of the African Union Abdel Fattah al-Sissi, Chile's President Sebastian Pinera and German Chancellor Angela Merkel attend a work session focused on climate in Biarritz, southwestern France, Monday Aug. 26, 2019, on the third day of the annual G7 Summit. The empty seat at third right was the place reserved for President Donald Trump, who according to Macron had skipped Monday's working session on the climate. (Ludovic Marin, Pool via AP)