The frantic and some times even querulous French Presidential campaign ended on 6th May. The simple majority made the choice for the next President, though the debate that preceded was not that simple. At the end I kept wondering if the description ‘argumentative’ should be applied only to Indians.
Having lived in France for more than 20 years, I did truly believe that the French is a smart, elegant and enviable diplomatic language. But during the Presidential debate I heard this privileged language of elites turning into a raucous festival of words. It made me scuttle for the French dictionaries to understand distinctive but rowdy phrases of the debate. But in this frenzy I did never budge from my desire to listen to environmental issues and opinions coming from Presidential contenders. There were hardly any. Having keenly participated in the ‘Green Economy’ campaign, when in UNEP and knowing that it is one of the hubs of the next Rio+20 conference, I thought the candidates would at least attempt to ‘jeter un coup d’œil’ on ecology. I was utterly disappointed.
Throughout the Presidential campaign I fondly recalled the remarkable initiative by the French Government in 2007. It was called Grenelle d’Environnment, a four month long multi-party and multi- stakeholder national debate across the France. I interacted closely with many of my French friends from Ministere de l”ecologie, du developpement durable, many of who are from French ‘grandes ecoles’– so called torch-bearers of French policies and of ‘exception française’. All of them were quite excited about this unique debate. 1500 proposals were made for the sustainable development, 15000 stakeholders participated and 300,000 persons contributed through Internet exchanges. The title given to this marathon dialogue itself was very telling. In May 1968, during the unrest by French workers and students, the agreement was reached in the Ministry of Labour on rue Grenelle after multi-stakeholder negotiations there. Hence the name for the conference –Grenelle.
In the face of financial crises that had just started showing its fierce face in 2007, holding such prolonged dialogue in presence of business leaders and the Nobel Laureates like Al Gore and Wangari Mathai was courageous. It demonstrated the will of the then new government to make a ‘new deal’. Indeed, the French President at that time was very candid and inspiring when he said, “Nous avons inscrit la charte de l’environnement dans notre Constitution. Et pourtant, nous ne sommes pas en capacité de relever le défi climatique.” France had included the charter related to environment in its constitution but he admitted, France is not yet in position to take on the challenge of climate change.
‘ La France n’est pas en retard. …La France a plaidé à l’ONU en faveur d’un New Deal économique et écologique planétaire. Elle ne peut pas espérer que son appel sera entendu si elle ne s’impose pas à elle-même l’exigence la plus forte, si elle ne fait pas tout ce qu’elle peut pour devenir elle-même un exemple. C’est dans cet esprit que j’ai voulu le Grenelle, avec la conviction que nous ne pourrons ni imposer, ni décréter le bouleversement de nos modes de vie et que seule une refondation de notre démocratie la rendra possible’. The French President was proposing to set an example before the world of a ‘new global deal’ in favour of economy and ecology. He even proposed the change in life style and recasting the democracy to achieve the ‘new deal’. He to my surprise, in his speech, used the words New Deal without using its French version-some thing rare for the French President, I thought.
I was keen observer of those dialogues and became fan of Grenelle de Environnment. I kept discussing the issues with my French friends while serving in the United Nations Environment Programme. I almost fell in love with the French Government when I saw sense of urgency that was advocated for taking actions. I nearly believed that en fin- finally, good times were here in France for the environment, particularly for biodiversity, energy efficiency, and renewable energy! After all France’s record in environmental arena is really impeccable. Its per capita emission of CO2 is just over 6 tones i.e. much less than most of the European countries and nearly 3 times less than that of USA. Its total emission of CO2 is marginally above 1 percent of the global emissions. Its electricity production from fossil fuel is only about 8 percent of the total electricity produced and its forest management is a role model for the whole world. France has therefore credible policies and with the Grenelle de Environment, I thought that it was poised to lead the Europe and also the world.
The concluding speech in Grenelle, of the then President on 25th October 2007 was one of the best speeches I had ever heard. Not because it had the word environment 36 times, but it was vibrant with action-oriented proposals.
And then in the years that followed, the sounds of Grenelle slowly subsided. The reasons were many. Financial Crisis, Eurozone predicament, Arab Spring, Tsunami …the list was ( and still is) growing. The noise of externalities was so loud and brazen, that ‘green words’ just faded
I wanted to hear during the Presidential debate of 2nd May , those ‘green words’ on the environment and on the sustainable future which were so easily flowing during the ‘Grenelle de Enviornnement’ five years back.
I was disappointed that in the televised Presidential debate the reference to environment was conspicuous by its absence. The word environment came only once in passing in the debate.
And then on 7th May, day after election results were announced, I read in the newspapers about plans of the outgoing President- “Nicolas Sarkozy va se mettre au vert ….” In simple English it translates as ” Nicolas Sarkozy will now go green.” For a moment I thought that the out-going President is now going to embrace green policies. Will he be joining Green Party? My joy was short lived. That French phrase of se mettre au vert really means: he is going to take rest!
French is sweet and smart diplomatic language. True.