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Missing in Action at the Halifax G7 Ministerial: France's Environment Minister

Hélène Emorine, G7 Research Group
September 18, 2018

As part of Canada's G7 presidency, Minister of Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna is inviting her G7 counterparts and ministers responsible for oceans and energy to Halifax from September 19 to 21, 2018, for Canada's last G7 ministerial meeting. What's the problem? As August ended France did not have an environment minister.

Newly elected Emmanuel Macron's announcement that Nicolas Hulot, a long-time environment activist, was joining his government as environment minister in May 2017 was a huge coup for the new president. Hulot, a climate change icon respected by all political parties, had famously refused many offers to join successive governments from all parties. Yet he accepted Macron's offer and took on the role of minister of the environment. During his tenure, Hulot's frustrations in his role grew and finally culminated in his resignation on August 28, 2018, during a radio interview that caught even Macron by surprise.

"I don't want to give the illusion that my position within the government suggested that we are answering these problems properly, so I'm leaving the government," Hulot said during the radio interview, adding: "I no longer want to lie." Hulot pointed to the government's failure to act on pesticides, biodiversity and soil as the reasons for his departure.

Hulot's live and public resignation is a blow to Macron who has made the fight against climate change a cornerstone of his diplomatic strategy. When U.S. president Donald Trump announced his withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Macron responded with the Make Our Planet Great Again campaign — made for the social media era — and invited American environment scientists and researchers to continue their work in France. In December 2017, two years after the historic Paris Agreement was concluded, Macron in collaboration with Antonio Guterres, secretary general of the United Nations, and Jim Yong Kim, president of the World Bank, launched the One Planet Summit to foster environmental cooperation among governments, the private sector and civil society. Ahead of the 2018 G7 Charlevoix Summit, Macron wrote, "the greatest threat to our societies and future generations involves the very future of our planet. The implementation of the Paris Agreement on climate change, which was adopted in 2015, is a vital necessity and must be supported by the G7 in the lead-up to the 24th Conference of the Parties in December in Poland."

Hulot's resignation will make it difficult for France to play a leading role at the meeting despite the fact that the meeting's themes of clean energy, climate change and plastic pollution are priorities for Macron's diplomacy. It remains to be seen how Macron will lead his climate change agenda when France takes over the presidency of the G7 in January 2019.

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Hélèlene EmorineHélène Emorine is a senior researcher for the G7 Research Group and co-chair, with Sophie Barnett, of summit studies for the G20 Research Group for the 2018 G20 Buenos Aires Summit in Argentina. She has attended several G7 and G20 summits and published articles on G20 and G7 performance. She graduated from the University of Toronto with a specialist degree in international relations and a minor in European Union studies and is now pursuing a graduate degree at Oxford University. Fully bilingual, Hélène has been interviewed in English and French by Radio-Canada, France 24, CBC and Xinhua News, among others, as an expert on the G20 and the G7.

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