In order to achieve economic success in the twenty-first century, we have to offer a response to the many environmental challenges we are facing. For example, how we might enable ten billion human beings to inhabit our planet without degrading it and without sacrificing our standard of living. The environment is not simply one issue amongst many, nor an item to be ticked off on a political agenda. It has become front and centre. It is at the heart of our daily lives because it affects our food, our health, our housing, and our means of transport. It impacts our model for development and, more fundamentally, the longevity of our civilisation.
The fight for the environment is above all a political one. Just as in the previous century there were those who chose to ignore the growing gulf between social classes, so too we still have climate change skeptics who, whether by conviction or by design, deny the very existence of global warming.
In the United States and in Europe, certain heads of state or candidates for that position openly defend such a thesis. To hear them tell it, we can continue to live, to consume, and to produce as we do now. The most accomplished experts, however, such as Jean Jouzel, have made the matter very plain, and have never been contradicted.
It is essential to continue to raise awareness, to make matters clear, and to demonstrate that we no longer have a choice and that we urgently need to speed up the changes that we have begun.
At the international level, we need to begin by defining our goals in order to reverse the continuous rise in greenhouse gas emissions. A first step was taken at the COP21 United Nations Climate Change Conference held in Paris in 2015, which enabled an agreement to be reached on limiting global warming to two degrees Celsius by the year 2100.
The ability to reach that consensus is testimony to the ever-growing numbers who believe that our planet is truly in danger and that action must be taken. Since the beginning of the industrial age, the earth’s average temperature has, in fact, risen by one degree Celsius, with consequences that are already noticeable – every year is hotter than the last. We are spending more and more money to extract the last drops of energy from almost defunct sources than we are to advance the sources of the future. A seventh continent, made of plastic, has begun to emerge from the oceans. On the one hand, we are wasting a third of the food that we produce, and, on the other hand, obesity is rampant. Devices that we use for a year or two will take centuries to decompose naturally.
These trends are only accelerating. If nothing is done to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the average temperature of the planet could increase by more than four degrees between now and 2100. That translates into a considerable rise in sea level, the disappearance of a number of islands and even whole areas of countries such as Bangladesh, as well as the proliferation of extreme weather events.
The environmental consequences would be disastrous. The social consequences would be no less so, because the number of climate refugees could reach several hundred million, with implications for the movement of populations and for the peace of the earth. By way of example, Syria recorded the worst drought in its history between 2006 and 2011. Attributed to climate change, it is considered one of the contributing factors to the war.
We should never forget that the challenge of climate change first threatens the most vulnerable, the poorest, the youngest, and future generations. Record temperatures reached in 2016, probably the hottest year in recorded history until then, remind us of the urgent need to act. That is why I am amongst those who salute the work done by France to reach the Paris Agreement, which enabled an extraordinary mobilisation of all strata of civil society throughout the world – states, businesses, trade unions, associations, local and public authorities, and religious movements.
Nevertheless, a great deal remains to be done. This is even truer since Donald Trump was elected. Europe must make its voice heard on the world stage to ensure that the commitments already pledged at COP21, including by the United States, are fulfilled.
It is all the more important because these undertakings are insufficient to put us on a trajectory to reach the goal of a limit of two degrees Celsius, and will need to be revised upwards. A comparable international mobilisation is needed to protect biodiversity and the oceans, in keeping with the adoption of a new Agenda for Sustainable Development. And there, too, our country has a key role to play. We have the second-largest maritime space in the world. We are the only European country classified amongst the eighteen richest countries in the world in terms of biodiversity, and one of the ten countries in the world that host the greatest number of endangered species. Finally, we are a member of all the major global governance authorities, including the G7, the G20, and the United Nations Security Council.
We have a duty to spearhead and defend this action. We need to bring together our state agencies with responsibility for these issues and to locate them in our overseas territories, which are the best place to showcase these challenges. For it is in these territories that we see the full range of France’s biodiversity and its climate – a global France.
It is there that we encounter the reality of the challenges that France faces. It is from there that we must establish our base and spread our message. Not from Paris.
However, we also need to act in an exemplary manner ourselves. That is why I want to place the new initiatives to protect the environment at the heart of policy to be implemented by France over the coming years, and at the heart of the policies to be developed by the European Union.
In doing so, we will have the legitimacy to be heard in the councils of the world. I am optimistic. The new environmental protection that we have to put in place in no way runs counter to the new economy that we wish to promote. It is actually one of its essential components. It offers an economic opportunity for those businesses that prove capable of providing new responses, including building houses that consume less energy than they produce, developing organic farming methods, and so on. Public investment and support are essential to achieve this. At the same time, it is also an opportunity for our society, because these solutions will enable us to eat better, to be healthier, to breathe less-polluted air – in short, to have a better life.
Excerpted with permission from Revolution, Emmanuel Macron, translated by Jonathan Goldberg and Juliette Scott, Harper Collins India.