‘The decree that reveals Emmanuel Macron’s environmental swindle’

Opinion piece by Claire Nouvian published in the newspaper Le Monde on June 7, 2022

On 8 June, the BLOOM association lodged an appeal against a government decree deemed dangerous for the future of the ocean, the climate and small-scale fishing.

On World Ocean Day, I have two lots of bad news. The first is that France, the world’s second largest maritime power, just proved by a terrible decree that it had no intention of protecting its marine territory. And this comes despite the urgency of restoring the health of the ocean that is now only a shadow of its former self, despite being a strategic ally in the fight against global warming, absorbing more than a quarter of our CO2 emissions.

The second is that French President Emmanuel Macron has not made his “green” reform and will not do so. On the one hand, the president was preparing his April 16 Marseille appeal to the green electorate, borrowing the concept of “ecological planning” from his rival Jean-Luc Mélenchon. On the other hand, he had just orchestrated the April 12 signing of a shameful decree [1] tearing apart the very concept of “Marine Protected Area,” rendering inoperative all the promises he had made on the subject.

Destruction of the very notion of protection

Remember that, from 2019 to 2022, Mr. Macron said that France would protect 30% of its waters, including 10% “as completely natural” or “strongly protected.” These announcements were celebrated for their ambition and lack of ambiguity. The International Union for  Conservation of Nature (IUCN) had indeed already clarified that a marine area could not be called “protected” if industrial activities (including fishing) were conducted there. According to international definitions, the president’s commitment to protect 30% of France’s marine territory therefore corresponded to the categorical prohibition of industrial extractions and installations. [2] It also meant that the 10% of “strongly protected” areas promised by Mr. Macron automatically corresponded to the higher degree of protection: a full, strict protection, also known as “no-take zones.”

These “strongly” protected areas do not allow any human activity, not even small-scale fishing, and are the most effective way to restore the ocean. Scientists have measured the spectacular recovery of the marine environment when man-made pressures cease. The fish biomass is 670% greater than in unprotected waters. [4] However, today, according to a CNRS study, France protects only 0.09% of its Mediterranean coastline and 0.005% of its Atlantic, Channel and North Sea coastline! [5]

Unfortunately, protecting less than 1% of the ocean is still too much for industry. By lowering the criteria for “strong protection” with the April 12 decree, Mr. Macron chose to side with them rather than with science and citizens.

A decree with disastrous impacts

The decree states that human activities “likely to compromise the conservation of ecological issues” must be “absent, avoided, suppressed or severely limited” while all human activities, not only industrial, should be formally prohibited. This is a downward shift in all categories of protection, leveling down the definition of the supposedly most ambitious standard. By creating a legal definition that extractive industries can fall back on to continue their anti-environmental activities in supposedly “protected” areas, this decree represents a systemic danger to the ocean. When France, which controls a maritime surface of more than 10 million km2, redefines the concept of protection to its own liking, it takes responsibility for destroying the environmental ambition of other nations and the European Union. At a time when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is urging us to take immediate action to protect the climate and biodiversity, and when States are preparing to boost their objectives’ ambitions so that 30% of the ocean is protected by 2030, the effects of this decree are potentially disastrous. That’s why Bloom is filing a lawsuit against the government’s decree.

Emmanuel Macron’s environmental cynicism

The president’s supporters can claim extenuating circumstances by explaining that it was the Breton lobby – which Mr. Macron rallied behind with the socialist barons of productive Brittany (with Richard Ferrand and Jean-Yves Le Drian in the lead) – that forced Mr. Macron to “give in” on their demands to protect industrial trawling rather than the ocean. Let us recall that trawling emits significant amounts of CO2, destroys biodiversity and frees the carbon stored in marine sediments. However, that would be angelizing the president, who acted decisively in favor of the industrial fishing and climate-damaging extractive lobbies. The chronology attests to this: when Mr. Macron announced the doubling of “strongly protected” marine areas at the Ocean Summit, which he organized shortly before the presidential election, he knew perfectly well that a decree removing all the substance from his announcement had not only already been drafted, but that its public consultation was closed a week earlier. The decree issued the day after the first round of the presidential election shed a new light on the Head of State’s announcements on February 5. [6] It was indeed an environmental swindle, supported by a total, resolute, cunning political cynicism.

On World Ocean Day [June 8], there is also good news: we hold in our hands a map of hope. A scientific assessment in the journal Nature in 2021 indicated that by truly protecting 30% of the ocean, it is possible to regenerate wild fish populations, marine ecosystems, the climate, small-scale fishing and food security, as well as increase the global fish catch by 5.9 million tons. [7] All that is left to do is to free ourselves from the grip of industrial lobbies and their political accomplices.


[1] Decree n°2022-527, 12 April 2022 taken pursuant to Article L. 110-4 of the Environment Code and defining the notion of strong protection and the modalities for the implementation of this strong protection.

[2] UICN, «WCC-2016-Res-050-FR Accroître l’étendue des aires marines protégées pour assurer l’efficacité de la conservation de la biodiversité».



[5] Ministère de la transition écologique, «Projet de décret pris en application de l’article L. 110-4 du code de l’environnement et définissant la notion de protection forte et les modalités de la mise en œuvre de cette protection forte.», 14 January 2022, http://www.consultations-publiques.developpement-durable.gouv.fr/projet-de-decret-pris-en-application-de-l-article-a2569.html

[6] Enric Sala et al., «Protecting the Global Ocean for Biodiversity, Food and Climate», Nature592, no7854 (avril 2021): 397‑402, https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-021-03371-z

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