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Emmanuel Macron had five years to win over green voters, it didn’t work.
Now he is making a last-ditch effort to call on them ahead of Sunday’s run-off against far-right candidate Marine Le Pen.
For Green voters, Sunday’s choice may seem obvious.
Macron’s record may not excite climate activists, but he runs against a nationalist who has pledged to slow decarbonization efforts, dismantle wind farms and impose a moratorium on new energy wind and solar. She also blamed “the economic model based on international free trade” for “the majority” of greenhouse gas emissions.
But during Wednesday’s televised debate, she attacked Macron as a “climate hypocrite” – and it struck a chord.
Pundits and environmentalists point out that Macron’s five-year term has been marked by broad declarations of intent but uneven delivery, raising doubts about his sincerity on climate issues.
Macron’s last-minute green pivot “is driven by electoral gain,” said Thomas Pellerin-Carlin, director of the Jacques Delors Energy Center, a think tank. “It’s something he could have done in 2017, 2018, 2019.”
Macron’s thinking on environmental issues has “considerably evolved”, according to Pascal Canfin, former director of the World Wide Fund for Nature in France and now a European parliamentarian within the Renew Europe group, an ally of Macron.
When he first met Macron in 2012, the future president was “a classic industrialist”, Canfin told La Croix, and tried to convince Canfin of the benefits of developing shale gas in France.
As president, Macron has developed clear rhetoric supporting climate action, said Anne Bringault, a member of the French Climate Action Network. But “there is a gap between his lyrical reflections and his results” both domestically and internationally, she said.
Five years ago, Macron campaigned on a platform that included banning problematic pesticides, reducing the size of France’s nuclear fleet, reducing air pollution by introducing air zones pure and the leadership of global climate diplomacy by France.
He failed in almost all of these areas.
Just a year into his presidential term, a fuel tax hike as part of an effort to tackle climate change has enraged commuters and businesses outside the biggest cities and sparked the movement massive protest by the Yellow Jackets.
“We warned [Macron] for a long time that if the revenues from this tax were not returned to the most disadvantaged households…there will be resistance,” said Bringault. “And that led to the Yellow Jackets.”
The chaotic months of street violence forced Macron to rethink how he crafts and implements his climate policies, and led to the creation of the Citizen’s Climate Convention – a group of 150 randomly selected people tasked with advising the government on the green transition.
The president has hailed the convention as a success, and France’s sweeping climate law, passed last March, was inspired by the convention’s recommendations. Aimed to contribute to the EU’s goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by 2030, the law bans fossil fuel advertisements, certain domestic flights and new cars emitting more than 95 grams of CO2 per kilometer by 2030. It also creates a new offense of ecocide.
But members of the citizens’ convention accused the government of watering down its recommendations on cutting emissions, boosting the circular economy and greening agriculture – undermining any political gains for Macron.
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Macron’s decision to create a High Council for the Climate, an independent body that advises the government, was more widely seen as a success. But it also exposed his government’s failures: successive assessments have shown that France was not reducing its greenhouse gas emissions fast enough to meet its targets under the Paris climate agreement. , a view backed by a French court ruling against the government.
These ideas are typical of Macron’s strategy on environmental issues, which is not “integrated” but amounts to “superimposing” new initiatives on top of each other – which does not lead to a significant transformation, according to Pellerin – Pug.
Macron’s new promise to entrust his future Prime Minister with “environmental planning” and to entrust him with the coordination of long-term measures to decarbonize the economy in various sectors – an idea pushed by far-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon – is more promising, says Pellerin-Carlin.
But its success will depend on Macron’s ability to change administrative structures, he warned.
When his former environment minister, Nicolas Hulot, resigned in 2018 over frustration with the lack of progress on key issues, Macron “did not change those structures…he changed a person.”
Doubtful Climate Champion
In Brussels too, Macron’s commitment to climate issues has come under heavy criticism.
France pushed for nuclear power and gas-fired power plants to be labeled as green investments in the EU taxonomy, pushed back on the greening of the common agricultural policy and called for an end to the sale of new combustion engine cars in 2040 and not in 2035 as proposed by the European Commission.
Macron has also recently pushed to rethink the EU’s farm-to-fork strategy, which aims to green agriculture, due to the impact of the war in Ukraine.
Diplomats have also expressed disappointment at what they see as a lack of progress on EU climate legislation – the so-called Fit for 55 package – under France’s six-month EU Council presidency. , which began in January.
France’s efforts[do] does not seem to correspond to Macron’s renewed interest in the climate “following Mélenchon’s strong results in the polls, said a diplomat from an EU country that Paris has long defended, the diplomat said, ” they managed to let other files rot”.
A spokesperson for the French presidency expressed surprise at this characterization, saying in an SMS: “The Council position on the CBAM was adopted in an extremely short time. All the Member States tell us that the French Presidency is characterized by a sustained rhythm on all the other texts of the [Fit for 55] wrap.”
Macron was initially more successful in positioning himself as a climate champion on the international stage, particularly in the months following his election in 2017, when US President Donald Trump was about to announce his withdrawal from the agreement. from Paris. In a video that has gone viral, Macron flipped Trump’s campaign slogan with a call to “make the planet even more beautiful”.
He also courted Chinese leader Xi Jinping and launched the One Planet Summit, aiming to bring together countries that remained committed to the Paris goals – efforts that helped keep global climate pact ambitions alive despite the withdrawal of United States.
“It was a pretty useful role at the time and I think he should be recognized for it,” said Lola Vallejo, director of the climate program at the Paris-based Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations.
But the role of climate champion has also served to strengthen his personal brand and carve out a place for himself on the international stage.
“He was a very savvy politician and he knows how to talk about the climate emergency in a way that resonates with people around the world, especially at a time when everyone was so desperate for the way Trump was talking about this issue,” Vallejo said.
This has since changed. Ahead of last year’s COP26 global climate summit in Glasgow, British diplomats privately expressed frustration at France’s contribution.
With the US presidency back in Democratic hands, Vallejo said, “there was less room for Macron to reap the political gains from such personal engagement.”
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