Annick Girardin: ‘Climate refugees’ should come first


French Polynesia is severely threatened by rising sea levels. [dany13/Flickr]

Climate change is not just about the environment. It is also about people. France’s Minister for Development, in conversation with EURACTIV France, following this week’s UN Climate Summit in New York.

Annick Girardin is the French Minister for Development and Francophonie.

The international climate summit took place in New York on 23 September. How would you sum it up?

What France expected from the summit, like Ban Ki-moon, was mobilisation. There was real mobilisation that makes me hopeful about what we can achieve at the next conferences, in Lima and Paris. The aim is to reach an agreement, with global participation, which brings together all the solutions available to us today in the fight against climate change. Sunday’s demonstrations proved just how involved people are in this fight.

What are the main advances made at this summit?

We should be proud of France. Thanks to us, the capitalisation of the Green Climate Fund should develop quickly. We made a commitment to invest 1 billion dollars in this project, and we will work to raise a total of 10 billion dollars by November. For now, the fund stands at 2.5 billion dollars, and we are still waiting for a response from the Scandinavian countries, Canada and Japan.

But this is not the only source of funding we are considering. We are also working on numerous other methods of financing that could contribute to saving the climate.

On the agreement itself, we are working to ensure that all the donations for the Paris conference in 2015 are on the table as soon as possible.

How will France finance its donation to the Green Climate Fund?

Certain technical questions still need to be answered, like the division of funds between donations and loans, as well as planning. These subjects did not belong in the President’s speech, and have yet to be broached, but will be determined soon.

What are the other tools available in the fight against climate change?

We also have to consider new financial solutions. 10 billion dollars will not solve all our problems! France is campaigning for the implementation of a European tax on financial transactions. Other tools are also being studied and will be announced shortly.

Finally there is the question of establishing new Millennium Development Goals. Beyond the issue of the climate, we must also fight poverty around the world. These issues should be tackled in parallel.

Is the United States, the world’s second largest emitter of CO2 after China, now ready to put money on the table for the climate?

We really hope our partners join us, be it in donating to the Green Climate Fund, or in using other tools that we are trying to mobilise, and we will get there.

You have taken part in several meetings with developing countries in New York. What are their fears and their demands?

Developing countries need concrete answers, as quickly as possible. We have to be aware that they are already experiencing the climate crisis. Financial support is indispensable, but they also need engineering expertise to help them to anticipate and adapt. From rising sea levels to drought, problems can be brought to light early on. France notably contributed to moving a village by several kilometres in Samoa ,because it was threatened by rising sea levels. This kind of project is crucial.

What role can France play in the fight against these problems that occur in such distant lands?

France has the world’s second largest maritime area, and with its overseas territories it is very much exposed to climate change, from French Polynesia to the Caribbean. We have already begun adapting our policies in order to systematically take the climate into account in our development activities. This will be integrated into all AFD (French Development Agency) projects from 2015, and all projects financed by France from now on. This forms part of the new development law adopted this spring.

President Hollande has emphasised the fact that global warming is responsible for more population displacement than wars and conflicts. Do you envisage the creation of a “climate refugee” status?

The question of climate refugees should be at the forefront of our discussions. These people should have a status and we must find answers. On some islands, the problem is already critical, so we must examine the solutions: either we move them to a higher area on their own island, or we offer to take them in elsewhere. I come from St Pierre and Miquelon, so I am particularly sensitive to this subject. The status of “climate refugee” could be created at the Paris Climate Conference in 2015.

The French budget for 2015 will soon be presented; spending fell in 2014.What lies in store for 2015?

Public development aid, like all national budgets, will be affected by spending cuts. Everyone has made an effort, but we still hope to fulfill our ambitions. And we must also not forget that the current objective is to improve transparency in aid. Instead of worrying about whether we have exactly the same amount of money available, we must ensure that the aid is delivered as efficiently as possible.

Does this mean that the aim of investing 0.7% of France’s gross national income in development aid has been abandoned?

No, it is laid out in the law, and we will renew our efforts to achieve it once our economy starts to grow.

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