The world may be distracted by the pandemic, but French voters have not forgotten the climate crisis. Local elections in France experienced an unprecedented green wave, prompting President Emmanuel Macron to announce a new environmental program.
The 28 In June, the Green Party of France and its left allies made significant gains, sweeping away big cities like Lyon, Bordeaux and Marseille. In Paris, the green socialist mayor Anne Hidalgo, known for her anti-pollution and pro-pedestrian program, was re-elected by a clear majority.
Municipal elections in France are much more representative of the political landscape than their equivalents in Great Britain. Consequently, the green wave and the disappointing result for his own party, La République En Marche (LREM), were a red flag for the French president. In response, Macron pledged € 15 billion over two years to fight climate change and accepted all but three of the 149 proposals released last week by the Citizens’ Climate Commission.
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The Commission, created in 2019 in response to protests from the Yellow Vests, is made up of 150 people randomly selected from all walks of life. The recommendations include a “carbon score” for all products and a call to French citizens to reduce their consumption of meat and cheese by 20%. Macron also declared himself open to the holding of two referendums on environmental questions in 2021: one on the amendment of article 1 of the French Constitution to “introduce notions of biodiversity; of the environment; and the fight against global warming, “and the other on the criminalization of ecocide. A petition to make ecocide a crime in Britain, on the other hand, was closed in early 2019 due to general elections, with only 22,000 signatures.
Macron’s 146-point plan to tackle the climate crisis is a far greater commitment than anything the Johnson government has announced. She will certainly face challenges. Several recommendations, such as supporting the creation of a European carbon tax, require international cooperation.
The plans have also drawn criticism at the national level; Macron’s rejection of a 4% tax on dividends from companies making more than 10 million euros in annual profits should bolster his reputation as “president of the rich”. In a revealing survey by YouGov, 58% thought that Macron was not sincere in his concern for the environment. Admittedly, the moment of the announcement, a few days after the dismal performance of his own party in the local elections, suggests a political opportunity rather than an ideological commitment. But given that French voters are notoriously harsh on their leaders, it is perhaps not surprising that the program has drawn the skepticism of a stony-hearted electorate.
Boris Johnson’s assessment of the climate emergency is paltry compared to that of Macron. The Prime Minister’s Roosevelt “New Deal” sparked an outcry from experts on limited environmental content. Against the French President’s 146-point plan, the regurgitation by the British government of an unfulfilled manifesto to plant more trees, for example, does not keep its promises.
Johnson’s actions fall short of his statement during the 2019 election campaign that “there is nothing more conservative than protecting the environment.” His rhetoric “rebuild greener” threatens to be an empty boast. As host of the COP26 climate summit, the government should show greater commitment in the fight against the climate crisis.
So what should Britain do? We must take note of this growing political movement as it gains ground across Europe. France offers great political inspiration. In 2016, it became the first country in the world to legislate against food waste. Britain should do the same. The British government should establish its own citizens’ commission of randomly selected individuals to produce environmental recommendations in collaboration with experts.
In Great Britain, isolation has made it possible to reduce pollution and pedestrianization of city centers. As far as possible, this progress should be maintained. On the other side of the Channel, we can only hope that Macron’s new environmental zeal is sincere. But as the extinction rebellion and school strikes have shown us, climate activism is a global movement.
The pandemic has claimed thousands of lives and, over time, the climate crisis as well. The 2019 European Parliament elections saw a green wave emerge. In last week’s local elections, French voters showed that the environment remained at the top of the agenda. What does Britain expect?