It’s more than a year since Emmanuel Macron pledged to #makeourplanetgreatagain — but his ambitious environmental agenda has largely been a flop.
Since becoming French president last May, he has sought every occasion to claim European leadership — from eurozone reforms, to climate, to the Iran nuclear deal, to managing U.S. President Donald Trump.
In the past year he and his activist environment minister, Nicolas Hulot, have pursued a green program ranging from upping global climate ambition and banning pesticides to freeing bears in the Pyrenees and cutting back on nuclear power.
But the Hulot-Macron green tandem has had to backtrack on almost all parts of that agenda, leaving the president looking like an avocado environmentalist — deep green on the outside but a lighter, pastier shade on the inside.
These lackluster results may be too much for Hulot, who earlier this week said he will reassess his role in government in the summer. “One thing I don’t do well is lying, especially to myself. By this summer I will have enough elements to be able to evaluate if I can actually contribute to this societal transformation.”
“France’s plan lacks indicators of success, means of implementation support, control, or sanctions to protect the health of citizens” — Michel Dubromel, president of a green NGO
POLITICO took a look at five issues calling the French president’s green creds into question:
France (along with five other EU countries) got a taste of the European Commission’s new clean air fervor this week, when it was sent to the European Court of Justice for failing to clean up dirty air and exceeding EU limits for nitrogen dioxide, largely caused by diesel engines.
Hulot quickly promised new measures on transport, including support for clean air zones in the most polluted regions, and pushing options such as cycling and car sharing.
The government is also under fire from French courts, which last year ordered it to come up with new plans for the most polluted regions. That strategy was published last month, and immediately dismissed by green groups as not ambitious enough.
“France’s plan lacks indicators of success, means of implementation support, control, or sanctions to protect the health of citizens,” said Michel Dubromel, president of NGO France Nature Environnement.
France led the battle to ban the controversial weedkiller glyphosate in the EU. But Macron’s hopes were upended by Germany, which secured the weedkiller a license for five more years.
Macron still pledged to ban glyphosate within three years, but was forced to backtrack under pressure from France’s politically powerful farmers. Now he says there will be no ban unless there are alternatives.
On neonicotinoids, three pesticides linked to insect decline, Macron got luckier when last month a majority of 16 EU countries including France voted to ban them.
But at home, France’s credibility is still under scrutiny. Two pesticides containing sulfoxaflor, a substance that has similar effects on bees’ health, were authorized last year, enraging NGOs that want a ban on all substances that harm bees and other pollinators.
The issue is currently being debated in the French parliament.
“This bill will be the test,” said Morgane Piederriere of France Nature Environnement. “What will be written in this agricultural bill will be a testament of their will on this subject.”
Going wild on rewilding
The government’s plan to reintroduce two brown bears into the Pyrenees this fall, signed off last week, resulted in angry protests from sheep farmers; a local football team even sported anti-bear T-shirts.
A plan to manage wolves, making a comeback in France, is running into opposition from farmers upset that they can’t shoot predators they say are feasting on their flocks.
“The wolf must learn that humans and their herds present a risk to their health. This requires the ability to shoot prior to an attack,” Laurent Garde, regional coordinator at Cerpam, an association representing farmers and research institutes, said at an event in the European Parliament last week.
The government did allow for some wolf culling — 40 in the year ending July, upped to 40 more when that quota ran out — but that in turn enraged environmentalists. Shooting wolves is “ineffective, useless and counterproductive,” said Jean-François Darmstaedter, president of Ferus, an animal conservation group.
Trying to lead on climate change
Macron invested a lot of energy in claiming the role of Europe’s climate leader.
He trolled Trump for his climate skeptic attitude and invited U.S. scientists to relocate to France. “Let us face it: there is no Planet B,” he told the U.S. Congress last month, calling on the U.S. to rejoin the Paris climate agreement.
But Macron is running into messy reality at home. French-led efforts to get European countries to be more ambitious about cutting greenhouse gas emissions face pushback from coal-dependent EU countries like Poland, and it is unclear if there will be EU unity on the issue.
That could cause problems for the EU and Macron’s leadership goals during December’s COP24 summit in Katowice, Poland.
Tied to nuclear
Macron originally pledged to reduce the share of nuclear in the country’s electricity production from 75 percent to 50 percent in 2025. But Hulot announced in November that the government is — for now — dropping the target to avoid turning to dirty coal and other fossil fuels to make up the difference.
France’s utilities continue to be big investors in nuclear, which upsets anti-nuclear Germany and spawned protests earlier this month when Macron was awarded the Charlemagne prize in Aachen.
The shift from green rhetoric to the dirtier business of governing has been noted by environmentalists.
“He showed very clearly that it is important that we have a strong green voice in Europe,” Ska Keller, head of the Greens in the European Parliament, wrote on Facebook last month. “So we need to be vigilant and we need to make sure we hold Macron accountable … he needs to walk the talk.”