Macron’s green record under scrutiny as top minister quits

French President Emmanuel Macron once promised to “make our planet great again”, but the shock resignation of his popular environment minister has put his mixed record on green issues under the spotlight.

When celebrity environmental activist Nicolas Hulot agreed to join Macron’s government upon his election last year, campaigners dared to hope for a radical shift towards greener policies.

Hulot, a TV star and veteran campaigner, had rejected previous job offers from presidents but decided to give Macron the benefit of the doubt, even though he had voted for the centrist’s Socialist rival.

“We’ll have to see if his conversion (to the environmental cause) is coherent, honest and credible or not,” Hulot said at the time.

The 63-year-old was under no illusions: he knew he was joining the government of a country with powerful farming and industrial lobbies, and one which gets 70% of its electricity from nuclear power.


France has seen 13 environment ministers in 20 years. Robert Poujade, the first man to hold the post, quipped in the 1970s that a better job title would be “minister of the impossible”.

Resigning live on air Tuesday — without warning Macron first — Hulot said he had grown frustrated with apparently irreconcilable differences between his vision and that of the government.

“We don’t see things through the same lens,” he said of Macron, a former investment banker, and his conservative Prime Minister Edouard Philippe.

“They don’t understand that the dominant model is to blame,” he said in his resignation interview.

“We are chasing growth at all costs.”

The shock announcement was an unwelcome addition to a long list of political difficulties for Macron, who defended his record on the environment.

“In 15 months this government has done more than any other in the same amount of time,” he insisted.

‘End of the illusion’

Macron’s government won plaudits from campaigners for a landmark legal ban on fossil fuel production by 2040 and by scrapping a proposed new airport at Notre-Dame-des-Landes in western France, partly on environmental grounds.

Yet critics said Hulot was an environmentally friendly fig-leaf for a government with other priorities.

“It’s the end of the illusion,” Yannick Jadot, a green Member of the European Parliament, said of Hulot’s resignation.

“He tried, but he would never have been able to have his voice heard in a government for which the environment is just a facade,” added Jean-Francois Julliard, head of Greenpeace France.

After Donald Trump announced last year that he was walking away from the historic Paris climate agreement, Macron launched his “make our planet great again” campaign as a riposte to the US president’s own nationalist slogan.

Macron rammed the message home further while addressing the US Congress in April, telling American lawmakers: “There is no Planet B”.

Yet criticism from French environmental campaigners has piled up.

Hulot was forced to announce in November that France’s long-held goal of bringing its reliance on nuclear energy down to 50% by 2025 was not feasible, and would likely take a decade longer.

Paris backed a European law on chemicals known as endocrine disruptors which activists said was too lax, and an EU-Canada trade deal, opposed by Hulot on environmental grounds, came into force in September.

Most recently he clashed with cabinet colleagues over a decision not to write into law a ban on glyphosate, a herbicide which the World Health Organization says likely causes cancer.

Members of Macron’s centrist Republic On The Move (LREM) party have accused Hulot of being too impatient.

Gilles Le Gendre, an LREM lawmaker in Paris, said the TV star had forgotten that his job title was in fact minister for “environmental transition”, a process that would inevitably take time.

“Today we’ve understood that the environment requires deep transformation of our system of production, more than simple little steps,” Le Gendre said.

“But when we talk about deep transformation, we’re talking about slow transformation,” he said.

Hulot brushed such comments aside.

“We’ve been patient for 30 years,” he said.

“There is so much urgency.”

© Agence France-Presse

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Marie Wolfrom
Guest Author

Related stories

Barbara Creecy: ‘You can make a difference if you want to’

The minister of environment, forestry and fisheries, likes to watch the British medical drama series Casualty, she tells Sheree Bega

US formally quits Paris agreement as election hangs in balance

Environmentalists say Trump's announcement that he would withdraw from the Paris agreement three years ago made it easier for countries such Australia, Saudi Arabia and Brazil to weaken their own ambitions

Richard Calland: Biden needs a senate win to limit Trumpism

Joe Biden doesn’t have the mojo needed to restore the US – so he needs a full house to appoint those who do, writes Richard Calland.

Emery Mwazulu Diyabanza: Liberating Africa from land of liberté

The cultural and political activist is on a quest to bring looted treasures back home

Global climate action is more vital than ever

South Africa must update its old position to make a positive contribution

What a sustainable Covid-19 recovery could look like

Bioeconomy — using renewable biological resources — will allow Africa to transform its systems and create a viable economic future, global warming
Advertising

Subscribers only

Covid-19 surges in the Eastern Cape

With people queuing for services, no water, lax enforcement of mask rules and plenty of partying, the virus is flourishing once again, and a quarter of the growth is in the Eastern Cape

Ace prepares ANC branches for battle

ANC secretary general Ace Magashule is ignoring party policy on corruption-charged officials and taking his battle to branch level, where his ‘slate capture’ strategy is expected to leave Ramaphosa on the ropes

More top stories

See people as individual humans, not as a race

We need to ingrain values of equality in education, businesses, society broadly and religious groups to see people

JJ Rawlings left an indelible mark on Ghana’s history

The air force pilot and former president used extreme measures, including a coup, enforced ‘discipline’ through executions, ‘disappearances’ and floggings, but reintroduced democracy

Sudan’s government gambles over fuel-subsidy cuts — and people pay...

Economists question the manner in which the transitional government partially cut fuel subsidies

Traditional healers need new spaces

Proper facilities supported by well-researched cultural principles will go a long way to improving the image and perception of the practice of traditional medicine
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…