By MIRIAM ACZEL
On Tuesday, August 28, French environment minister Nicolas Hulot announced he was quitting Emmanuel Macron’s government—on live radio. During his interview with France Inter, a frustrated Hulot explained, “I don’t want to give the illusion that my presence in government means we’re answering these issues properly—and so I have decided to leave the government.”
Hulot, Macron’s most popular cabinet minister and former television presenter and environmental activist, said that his decision was “the most difficult decision of my life,” and was made on the spot—neither Macron nor Hulot’s wife were aware that he was going to resign.
Relaxed Restrictions on Hunting
Hulot’s decision came one day after the French government announced plans to reduce restrictions on hunting. Macron had previously announced his plans to reduce the price of permits, in addition to review current hunting quotas. On August 27, Hulot attended a meeting to discuss the relaxing of hunting regulations. He expected debate from both sides of the issue, but when he arrived, he instead was met with people heavily biased in favor of hunting, including lobbyists and members of the French hunting federation. In the radio interview, Hulot stated that the presence of lobbyists are “a problem of democracy. Who has the power? Who governs?”
Another issue troubling the ex-minister is France’s controversial stance on nuclear energy. While Macron’s predecessor had promised to lower the proportion of nuclear energy in France’s power generation from 75% to 50% by 2025, since taking office, Macron has pushed the deadline back another 10 years. Furthermore, activists claim that the French government is inhibiting debate regarding ways to reduce the country’s dependence on nuclear energy by curtailing discussion of other alternative energy sources.
Make Our Planet Great Again?
Hulot’s decision comes at a time when Macron’s ratings are at 39%, the lowest of his presidency, and as the administration faces various scandals and protests. The French president stated to BFM TV that although he respected Hulot’s decision, “I don’t understand why he is stepping down when we had many successes in the first year that are to his credit.”
Just last summer, following the United States’ announcement to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement, Macron issued a statement in direct response to President Donald Trump’s announcement, calling the decision a mistake and inviting U.S. scientists to work in France on the climate change issue to “make our planet great again.”
While Hulot acknowledged that the French government is taking more action than other countries, he still believes that France “is not doing enough. Europe is not doing enough. The world is not doing enough.”
Broken Promises and Lack of Action
Macron defended the actions of his government, referencing his previously announced plans to stop production of hydrocarbons by 2040 and to shut down France’s coal-powered power plants. However, these pledges may be “largely symbolic” because France’s current hydrocarbon production only amounts to roughly 1% of its consumption, and the country would likely continue to import and refine oil even after these pledges become formalized.
Hulot acknowledged that there were some small victories, such as the decision to phase out the harmful pesticide glyphosphate and the decision not to build a new airport in the Nantes area.
However, Hulot explained that his decision to resign ultimately came out of his frustration that France was doing little to combat climate change and that too often the issue is “relegated to the bottom of the list of priorities.” Further, he said he found himself “all alone in the operation” to protect the environment, and that making “little steps” was not enough. Hulot has also expressed disappointment with Macron’s lack of action on other environmental issues, ranging from pesticide use to the “artificialization of soils.”
Hope for a Better Future
Hulot expressed his hope that his decision to resign would serve as a call to action: “I hope that my act is not an act of resignation but one of mobilization.”
Ségolène Royal, France’s former environment minister under the previous government, stated on Twitter, “I respect Nicolas Hulot’s choice. As I know from experience, he has proved that the battles for the environment are very difficult but so crucial. . . . France needs to keep the climate leadership and be ready to fight for those forces around the planet that hope for a better future.”
Hulot’s decision raises the important dilemma of how to deal with the frustration over lack of action on climate change. Coming on the heels of the United States’ announcement to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement, it is crucial for global leaders and citizens alike to work together to develop plans for ensuring climate resiliency and preparedness. Now more than ever, it is important to work toward fostering open communication and engagement, research and development of novel energy technologies and climate solutions, and supporting education and outreach in the mission to protect this great planet.
Editor’s note: This post originally appeared on the Environmental Law Institute’s blog Vibrant Environment at https://www.eli.org/vibrant-environment-blog/french-environment-ministers-resignation-frustrated-call-climate-action
Miriam Aczel is a President’s Scholar PhD Candidate at Imperial College London’s Centre for Environmental Policy. Her research focus is on international energy science and policy, with a focus on mitigation of environmental and health impacts of shale gas. She is also co-founder and co-director of the Amir D. Aczel Foundation for Research and Education in Science and Mathematics, a nonprofit based in Cambodia.