Making the Planet Great Again: France’s Lofty Environmental Goals
French president Emmanuel Macron promised to make France a leader in fighting climate change after U.S. president Donald Trump pulled out of the 2015 Paris climate accords. In a widely circulated video, Macron committed to “make [the] planet great again” and invited U.S. climate scientists to flock to France.
In the wake of the Trump administration’s “America First” brand of isolationism, the international community will soon look for another more aspiring and collaborative country to fill the void of American leadership. Macron envisions that country to be France, and he’s leading with environmentalism. French Ecology Minister, Nicolas Hulot, unveiled the country’s ambitious five-year climate plan at a press conference on July 6.
Minister Hulot announced that France will eliminate coal-power stations by 2022. By 2025, France intends to reduce the country’s use of nuclear power from 75% to 50%. The plan bans any new projects from using fossil fuels by 2040, but what many believe to be the most challenging step is France’s objective to outlaw the sale of all petrol and diesel vehicles by the same date.
In the meantime, “the government will offer each French person a bonus to replace their diesel car dating before 1997 or petrol from before 2001 by a new or secondhand vehicle,” Hulot said.
Environmental advocacy group Greenpeace agrees with the findings of the French plan but remains skeptical. A spokesperson explains the organization is “left wanting, on how these objectives will be achieved.” Macron insists that climate change action needs to go beyond the 2015 Paris Agreement, and his government believes that by declaring the plan now, the country will have enough time to develop new, green technology and to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.
Although Macron’s government recognizes that reaching their target would be demanding, especially for French carmakers, Hulot is confident that the French car industry is ready to adapt to the new green agenda. Peugeot, Citroen, and Renault took the first three places on a 2016 list of large car manufacturers with the lowest carbon emissions, according to the European Environment Agency.
France is not alone in its crusade against combustion-powered cars. Both Germany and India aim to ban combustion-powered vehicles by 2030. Even more ardent are the Netherlands and Norway who wish to do away with them by 2025.
When asked about Trump’s withdrawal, Hulot said France intended to support non-governmental organizations to continue to fight climate change. “I don’t confuse the brutal attitude of the Trump administration with the U.S. state of mind,” he said.
According to the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, only 12% of Americans reject the existence of climate change. Contrary to popular belief, among the American people the reality of climate change is not much of a debate. Within the scope of American politics, however, climate change is consistently challenged by many conservative voices who ignore insurmountable evidence brought forth from the international scientific community. The Silent Majority stands with climate science.
Outside of the United States, the validity of climate change is seldom questioned by politicians. As of December 2016, 194 states and the European Union signed the Paris Agreement, 156 of whom have ratified or acceded to the Agreement. This international consensus was viewed as an essential step in slowing climate change’s effect on the environment, especially because three of the four largest greenhouse gas emitting countries, China, the U.S., and India, ratified the agreement.
Only two countries did not sign the Agreement: Nicaragua and Syria. Nicaragua refrained from signing because it does not believe the Agreement does enough to hold large countries to following the Agreement, and Syria did not sign because it is in the middle of a brutal civil war. Because climate change is acknowledged as such a critical issue, even the most uncooperative states such as North Korea signed it. On June 1, Trump announced the United States’ impending withdrawal from the Paris climate accords, making the United States less accountable than North Korea, the dictatorship responsible for widespread human rights abuses including torture and murder in the country’s concentration camps.
The U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Agreement is consistent with Trump’s stances on the environment and energy. Trump campaigned on bringing back American jobs in coal and ridiculing environmentally-friendly policy. The Paris Agreement is inherently progressive- the opposite of Trump’s message of reversion to a nostalgic period of americana that may or may not have ever existed. Trump says “make America great again” because in his opinion, America was great when it was largely isolationist and its factories were guzzling fossil fuels without the known possibility of environmental repercussions. With changing times come changing attitudes, and now there are new parameters for what it means to be a “great” country.
Every government in the world except for Nicaragua, Syria, and the United States believe that unifying to protect the only planet humans have is “great”. By that logic, countries that champion environmental protectionism are “great”. Countries that help others and surpass general expectations become leaders on the world stage. Understanding this, Macron is positioning himself and France to surpass the Trump administration and the United States in international recognition, which translates to clout and power.
Climate change is a global issue that requires the cooperation of all states. As the United States disregards the Paris Agreement and continues to undermine the efforts of the international community, other countries will begin to resent the United States.
Macron is often characterized as a global strongman, and he seeks to return France to its place at the top of the international order. The tactics Macron employs do not involve a dominating military like Napoleon’s or unattainable luxury like Louis XIV’s. Macron is taking a page right out of the old American playbook: his goal is to rise to power through progressivism, advanced technology, and righteousness.
Bottom line, Macron wants to demonstrate that France cares about the global community as well as the globe itself, drawing a sharp contrast against Trump’s “America First” philosophy. Macron could not have been more clear in his powerful statement responding to the Trump’s plan to withdraw from the Paris Agreement:
“The United States turned its back on the world, but France will not turn its back on the Americans.”