France’s contradictory climate ambitions

French Minister for Ecological and Social Transition Nicolas Hulot, is rarely seen at councils for environment ministers organised by DG AGRI. [Etienne Laurent/EPA]

While French President Emmanuel Macron fights the corner of climate diplomacy, actions carried out by the French government led by Edouard Philippe mainly defend industrial interests. EURACTIV.fr reports.

Climate is at the centre of French diplomacy. Last winter, after the  COP23 summit in Bonn, Macron brought together climate leaders in Paris for an event to engage civil society on the climate issue.

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During a live Facebook event last week, French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe expressed his concerns on the future of the planet, adding that he is obsessed with the subject and the book Collapse: How societies choose to fail or to succeed, by Jared Diamond.

But in practice, climate specialists are more than concerned. Many of those who initially supported Macron have now become critical in the face of increasingly contradictory decisions. In June, the authorisation of the Mède palm oil refinery only increased criticism.

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At European level, France remains quiet on the subject. Minister for Ecological Transition Nicolas Hulot is playing a hiding game. “We do not see him”, stated a source at the Commission’s climate directorate, which helms climate talks on behalf of the 28 EU member states.

The former journalist does not show up at EU ministerial meetings, unlike his diligent colleagues. In one year, he only travelled to Brussels and Luxembourg once.

Most often, France sends lower level representatives to the Council of environment ministers. The Bulgarian presidency of the EU Council had been shocked to welcome on several occasions ministry officials rather than the minister himself or his secretary of state Brune Poirson, for meetings held in Sofia in the spring.

Climate and constitution

The latest hobby horse of French deputies is to include the protection of the environment, climate and biodiversity in the Constitution as part of an ongoing round of amendments.

Their suggested amendment states that “[France] acts for the preservation of the environment and biodiversity and against climate change”.

Arnaud Gossement, a lawyer specialising in environmental law, finds it regrettable that the concept of climate change is reduced to an obligation of means and not of result, compared to the precise threshold of 1.5 ° to 2 ° put forward in the Paris Agreement.

French NGOs are therefore calling on the government to change course by taking effective measures rather than simply giving speeches.

“So far, apart from the increase in taxes on carbon and diesel, structuring measures are still lagging,” stated the Climate Action Network.

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NGOs are mainly concerned about the high number of discrepancies formulated by the French government.

France is trying to implement a strategy to tackle imported deforestation, but at the same time it gives energy giant Total operating licences for biofuels from palm oil and gives the green light for the exploitation of a gold mine in Guyana that could destroy 575 hectares of forests.

“France’s actions are not ground-breaking,” stated the NGOs who called for 12 emergency measures and as many pledges of credibility from the French state. Some of the pledges are: a mandatory bicycle plan including the reimbursement of bike / work journeys, the closing of nuclear power plants and the acceleration of thermal renovation, among others.

France backtracks on nuclear phase-out pledge

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