French presidential candidates’ environmentalism often misses the point

France's presidential candidates have so far failed to make the link between improved air quality and lower social security costs. [Delpixel/Shutterstock]

Never before have so many presidential candidates taken such trouble to trumpet their environmental credentials. But this does not necessarily mean they know what environmentalism is all about. EURACTIV’s partner Journal de l’Environnement reports.

“We are making progress!” This comment from a long-suffering environmentalist neatly sums up the French presidential campaign. To their credit, all 11 candidates have included environmental measures in their electoral programmes, which in itself is a step in the right direction.

Green France

A certain consensus appears to have matured around some subjects, like clean energy. Gone are the days of Nicolas Sarkozy or François Hollande’s promises to “develop renewable energies”. This time, the candidates are serious.

Basing their pledges on data from NGOs or organisations like ADEME (France’s environment and energy agency), some candidates laid out their visions for a carbon-neutral France, with solar, wind and biomass energy keeping the lights on by the middle of the century. Many in the energy sector found these programmes completely unrealistic.

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Failed revolution

But very few of the candidates for this year’s election appear to have understood the main issues of the energy revolution that is under way. None have spoken of a society in which (almost) everyone generates their own energy that can be sold to their neighbour when there is a surplus. This is a real missed opportunity, because it is precisely these kinds of schemes, not the extension of the operating life of France’s ageing power stations, that will guarantee the future of energy giant EDF.

Energy insecurity is now present in many of the candidates’ campaigns. But a glance at the measures proposed is enough to see that it will not be a major issue until at least the next presidential election.

Social security

France’s poor air quality has finally grabbed the attention of the political strategists and campaign managers. Though their main concern appears to be selling more electric cars (albeit not enough to upset the traditional market).

But again, all the candidates missed the opportunity to draw a link between cutting deaths caused by vehicle emissions and slashing billions off the country’s social security bill, one of the central themes of the campaign.

The future of farming

Biodiversity receives a passing mention. Some candidates even want to assign its protection to hunters, whom they evidently trust more than scientists. Others call for the current biodiversity law to be applied in full, without pledging realistic finances to make this happen.

Again, no candidate has really hammered home the message to voters that preserving biodiversity means protecting species, food security, the seas and fighting climate change.

More than just recycling

This election is also the first outing for the circular economy as a campaign issue, and most candidates only have good things to say for it. But they tend to see it as, at worst, little more than a new recycling strategy, and at best, a programme of industrial greening.

Which candidate has a strategy to oblige industries to make significant cuts to their consumption of raw materials, to produce products with a longer useful life, which can be repaired and recycled easily? The answer is no-one.

More than a billion people live without easy access to drinking water. And with climate change, this figure is expected to double in the coming years, with drastic consequences for migration, international security and border protection.

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