The world can breathe a sigh of relief as the country that hosted COP21 has recommitted itself to continue its climate leadership. On Sunday May 6th, three-quarters of French voters rejected the anti-globalization, anti-immigration, anti-climate rhetoric of the far-right.
Emmanuel Macron won the French election by a landslide (66 percent), beating xenophobic candidate Marine Le Pen and her National Front party. In the French election globalization defeated populism, a more open worldly vision for France defeated the closed, nativist view of the far-right.
Climate change appears to have been a key issue that contributed to Le Pen’s defeat. She was forced to change her stance on the issue because unlike her counterpart in the US, French voters would not go along with her climate denial. In 2012 Le Pen said: “I am not sure that human activity is the principal origin of this phenomenon.” In an attempt to capture voters she recently revised her position adopting the Republican line saying, “I am not a climate expert, I think that human activity does contribute to a proportion, which I can’t measure, to this phenomenon.”
Unlike Americans who were duped by Russian cyber-interference, French voters were not deterred by the online publication of thousands of hacked campaign documents. The New Yorker has quite rightly pointed out that this elections gives France the right to claim intellectual superiority. Despite being the target of a number of violent terrorist attacks, France has not succumbed to the kind of racist tribalism that has enticed Americans to vote for Donald Trump.
Reflecting the gravity of the threat many of Europe’s mainstream leaders, both center-right and center-left broke with protocol and endorsed Marcon. Some have credited Trump — who praised Le Pen but is very unpopular in France — for Macron’s win. In the end, it appears that French citizens voted against Le Pen’s Trump-like policies rather than for Macron. This vote effectively saves Europe from disintegrating and buoys hope for climate action on the continent.
Macron issued a message of welcome to American researchers, entrepreneurs, working on climate change saying “here you are welcome. I do know how your new president now has decided to jeopardize your budget your initiatives as he is extremely skeptical about climate change. I have no doubt about climate change and how committed we have to be regarding this issue.”
For french and European researchers Macron said, “we will preserve our budgets, we will reinforce our investment our public and private investment, in order to do more and accelerate our initiative in order to deliver in line with COP21.”
To the rest of the world and America, in particular, Macron said:
“Please come to France its your nation we like innovation we want innovative people. We want people working on climate change, energy, renewables, and new technologies. France is your nation.”
Macron is now the leader of the free world. France is a global climate leader and one of the most sustainable countries in the world. They have made tremendous progress on a number of fronts. France has shown energy leadership including renewables for more than a decade. France along with other nations in Europe are moving towards 100% renewable energy. The nation has indicated that they will end coal power generation in the country by 2023. France has also made sustainability reporting mandatory, and restricted both GMOs and cars.
Former French President Hollande signed an agreement to work with former President Obama on climate change. Hollande also warned Trump not to abandon the Paris Agreement and threatened to impose a carbon tax if the US failed to meet is emissions reductions targets.
Voters in the United States and the United Kingdom have been swayed by powerfully destructive forces that are at odds with the long tradition of democratic leadership in these two countries. The heart of modern democracy has succumbed to a parasitic disease that if left unchallenged will kill its host.
That is why Macron’s victory is so important to the future of the free world and by extension climate action. The resistance to globalization and diversity are a threat to economic prosperity and to the reality that the world is fundamentally interconnected. Failure to address problems in one part of the world have been shown to have global repercussions. Islamic extremism is a case in point. Climate denial cannot go unchallenged and nation’s that engage in climate action will reap their share of the $23 trillion windfall.
France has helped stem the spread of right-wing populism and saved climate action in the process. Europeans are rejecting the politics of Donald Trump and Theresa May. Instead they are embracing a progressive centrist form of government. If Germany joins France and the Netherlands we will have a bulwark against a cancerous form of nationalism.