When Nicolas Hulot, the French environment minister, went on a radio breakfast show, no one was expecting anything like this. As the interview went on, Hulot spoke more and more about the failures of his cabinet — lamenting that France has not done enough on any environmental front.
“Have we started to reduce our CO2 emissions? No. Have we started to reduce our use of pesticides? No. To prevent the erosion of our biodiversity? No,” Hulot explained.
As the discussion continued, it seemed that Hulot reached a striking moment of self-awareness. Saying that he felt “alone” in a cabinet which took “insufficient” action to tackle environmental challenges, he foreshadowed his resignation.
“I can’t lie to myself anymore,” he said. “I don’t want my presence in the government to give the illusion that we’re facing up to such stakes,” he said on public radio France Inter.
Neither President Emmanuel Macron nor any other ministers were made aware of this decision beforehand. In fact, when Marlène Schiappa, Macron’s secretary of state for equality heard the news while being live on another radio station, she asked the presenter if he was joking.
“I am going to take… the most difficult decision of my life,” Hulot concluded. “I am taking the decision to leave the government.”
Not even his wife knew.
An environmental crisis, or a political crisis?
When Emmanuel Macron was elected French president, he came into office as an environmental champion. He strongly rebuked Trump’s announced his intention to quit the Paris Agreement, and even went on to consider the climate agreement as a prerequisite for a trade agreement. Furthermore, Hulot, a respected journalist and environmental activist, had been one of Macron’s most popular ministers — so it seemed like things could only go well. But they didn’t.
Macron’s promises, while laudable, have mostly remained just that — promises. Furthermore, the straw that broke the minister’s back was another problem, indicative of the current situation not only for Macron’s France but also for most of the world’s leaders: lobbying.
During his interview, Hulot recalled how just earlier this week, a member of the hunting lobby was allowed to attend and intervene in an environmental meeting. This probably comes as no coincidence, considering that Macron recently announced the reintroduction of the ‘traditional’ presidential hunt. When Hulot asked Macron about this, the president reportedly responded that he “didn’t know how he had got in.” This attempt at humor certainly didn’t amuse Hulot.
“It is symptomatic of the presence of lobbyists in circles of power. Who holds the power? Who rules?” Hulot wondered on the radio.
It’s not the first time the French government has been criticized regarding lobbying. Ecologist Yannick Jadot told Le Monde that Macron “sucks up” to lobbyists, and if you look elsewhere in the world, you will likely find similar issues.
In truth, it’s not like France hasn’t been doing anything. They’re taking steps to get rid of coal plants, they announced a ban on non-electric cars by 2040, and environmental awareness campaigns are commonplace in France. But this isn’t nearly enough — it’s only “mini steps”, Hulot explains.
Meanwhile, Macron, who is currently on a state visit, says France has “done more than any other on this subject”, adding that people must be patient. “It’s a fight that isn’t won from one day to the next,” Macron said.
There is some truth to both sides, but Macron is still a long way away from fulfilling his promises, which include cutting emissions, pesticides bans, and wildlife protection — and those goals can only be achieved with courage and well-thought plans, not corporate lobby. Meanwhile, Hulot’s call remains unanswered.
“I don’t understand that we are witnessing the gestation of a tragedy with indifference,” Hulot said. “The planet is becoming a sauna, our natural resources are draining, biodiversity is vanishing. And we stubbornly try to revive an economic model that is the cause of all this mess.”