Delivering a broad critique of how the French government of President Emmanuel Macron has failed to go far enough to address the global climate crisis and related issues, the nation's popular environment minister Nicolas Hulot announced his resignation on live radio Tuesday, declaring, "I don't want to lie to myself anymore."
"I don't want to give the illusion that my presence in government means that we meet the standards on these issues, so I'm taking the decision to leave the government," said Hulot, to which the France Inter radio hosts responded, "Are you serious?" He was, indeed.
"We strive to maintain an economic model that is responsible for all these climatic disorders," charged Hulot, who has been described one of the public's favorite cabinet members and "France's best-known environmentalist" as the former host of a television program.
"Have we starting to reduce the use of pesticides? The answer is no. Have we started to stop the erosion of biodiversity, the answer is no," he continued. "We're taking little steps, and France is doing a lot more than other countries, but are little steps enough? ...The answer is no."
The former minister called the move "the most difficult decision of my life," and explained that he made up his mind "throughout the summer," citing "an accumulation of disappointments" and feeling "all alone in pushing" for improvements in environmental policy. As the Guardian reported:
Hulot announced his departure after the government said it would relax hunting laws, a measure aimed at boosting Macron's appeal in rural areas, but seen by environmentalists as caving in to the powerful hunting lobby.
Under the changes, hunting licences would be cheaper and more species could be shot, sparking outrage among campaigners for the protection of birds. Hulot said lobbies had too much power over the French government.
Hulot's differences with the government had been exposed in recent months. He had been disappointed when the government backtracked on a target to reduce reliance on nuclear power to 50 percentt of the country's energy mix by 2025.
He had also sought a legal ban on the controversial weedkiller glyphosate but was overruled by the agriculture ministry, which preferred negotiating directly with farmers and industry.
EuroNews pointed out that "having the popular personality in his cabinet was a triumph for Emmanuel Macron, which scored the new leader instant green credentials," but "12 months on, environmentalists were starting to question Hulot's role and the government's commitment to the cause."
The resignation of French environment minister @N_Hulot proves that, "faced with the greatest environmental and climatic dangers ever known to man, @EmmanuelMacron is the problem and not the solution"
— Friends of the Earth (@foeeurope) August 28, 2018
Hulot's unanticipated departure, the Guardian noted, is "a major blow to Macron and calls into question the president's credibility on the environment." The ex-minister said on the radio show that he did not warn Macron or Prime Minister Edouard Philippe prior to his announcement, which a government spokesperson quickly ridiculed as a disregard for "the most basic courtesy."
Although Macron has received praise for some small moves—such as the "Make Our Planet Great Again" grants that came in response to President Donald Trump's decision to ditch the Paris climate accord—as Juliette Legendre wrote for Foreign Policy In Focus in June, Macron's first year in office "has proven that he is...an old-fashioned, right-leaning neoliberal determined to overhaul France's hard-won social model under the guise of modernism and emancipation."
Macron had "made some fine speeches" and stood up to Trump on climate issues, Greenpeace France director Jean-Francois Julliard told Reuters, but he has "never turned these words to concrete action" at home.
"There is still no energy transition policy in France," she said.