26 September 2023
The ocean: the glaring omission from Macron’s ‘ecological plan’
26 September 2023
On Monday 25 September, President Emmanuel Macron presented the ‘ecological plan’ designed to enable France to become a “great ecological nation”. After a year of interministerial work, the government has succeeded in creating the hollow concept of ecology “à la française”, barely mentioning the ocean, even though France is the world’s second-largest maritime power. The very next day, on 26 September, two meetings organized by the government confirmed a roadmap absolutely devoid of any political will to protect the marine environment. The stage has been set for the United Nations Ocean Conference, which France will host in Nice in June 2025. Unless the French government makes a spectacular U-turn, the significant international event hosted by France is set to be yet another summit of political hypocrisy and irresponsibility.
The ocean absorbs over 90% of excess heat and up to a third of CO2 emissions produced by human activities. It is “our greatest ally against global warming” according to the UN. Yet France, the world’s largest maritime power (with an area of 10 million km2) along with the United States, stubbornly ignores it, except when the ocean can ‘pay off’ politically and in the media. This is how the ocean, the great regulator of the world’s climate, is passed over in silence during major announcements concerning ‘ecological planning’, but is pulled out of the hat for diplomatic gatherings with media potential, such as the One Ocean Summit in Brest in February 2022 or the next UN Ocean Conference, which will be hosted by France in Nice in June 2025.
Today, two multi-party meetings organized by the government in the run-up to the UN Ocean Conference have highlighted the State’s determination to deploy all the technical fixes possible to supposedly ‘protect’ the ocean (the ocean’s ‘digital twin’, financial schemes, a blue economy, etc.), but not the measures needed to restore marine ecosystems and regenerate the abundance of marine species: a ban on destructive fishing methods in French Marine Protected Areas (that are still not truly protected), and support for the fishing industry as it moves towards “detrawling” (a term coined by halieutics professor Didier Gascuel to haul France out of the rut of fishing methods that destroy the seabed and marine animals).
The French marine protection imposture is no longer pulling the wool over anyone’s eyes. At the beginning of September, a scathing editorial published in the prestigious journal Nature severely criticized the French head of state, denouncing “the disturbing misalignment of promises and action from self-proclaimed ocean champions”.
There’s nothing accidental about the government’s marine misdirection. The President and his Secretary of State for the Sea, Hervé Berville, are scrupulously avoiding antagonizing those involved in industrial fishing, despite the fact that it is recognized as the leading cause of ocean destruction by biodiversity specialists (IPBES). Stabilizing the climate would require protecting the ocean, and protecting the ocean would require putting an end to the daily destruction caused by fishing gear with a high ecological and social impact, such as bottom trawls and demersal seines, all fishing methods ardently defended by industrial fishing lobbies in Brittany.
After this lack of announcements regarding the ocean, the 21 months between now and the UN Ocean Conference in June 2025 are likely to be a long journey, culminating in a climax of international embarrassment. There is still time for the State to do a sharp U-turn with its plans for the National Biodiversity Strategy 2030, the National Sea and Coastal Strategy, the revision of the Strategic Coastline Documents, or the European Union’s Ocean Action Plan. Administrations and citizens have a role to play in making their dismay heard in the face of such environmental hypocrisy.
Essential measures for the ocean, the climate and fisheries
|Propositions in the ‘ecological plan’
|What needs to be done
|Protecting and restoring marine ecosystems
|To date, France’s Marine Protected Areas are hollow shells. Industrial fishing vessels operate almost half the time in these supposedly ‘protected’ areas. In March 2023, the French Secretary of State for the Sea, Hervé Berville, stated that he was “totally, clearly and firmly opposed” to a ban on bottom trawling in ‘protected’ marine areas.
|Abandon the concept of Marine Protected Areas ‘à la française’ and adopt a clear definition of what an MPA is.
Abandon the French concept of “strong protection” and align with European “strict protection” (i.e. “no take”: no human activity in the most protected areas).
Exclude all industrial activities and infrastructures from ‘protected’ marine areas, in line with IUCN criteria (industrial fishing, wind power, aggregates, etc.).
Create 30% of Marine Protected Areas on each coastline and overseas basin by 2030, with one-third under “strict protection”.
|Transitioning the sector towards socially and ecologically virtuous fishing
|For decades, in the name of consumerism, public authorities have supported destructive, fuel-guzzling fishing methods (particularly trawling).
This structural dependence on fuel is the Achilles’ heel of the sector, which can only survive thanks to massive injections of public aid to compensate for soaring oil prices.
With fuel tax rebates alone, the fishing industry saves 154 million euros a year. Since March 2022, an additional 75 million euros in diesel subsidies have been released in the wake of the war in Ukraine.
No plan to transform the sector that has the greatest impact on the ocean.
|Remove the fishing industry’s dependence on fossil fuels by ending fuel subsidies.
‘De-trawl’ French fishing and support the sector’s transition to low-impact, low-carbon methods that maximize employment.
Immediately exclude fishing vessels over 25 meters in length from the 12 nautical mile band.
Allocate quotas to small-scale fishing as a priority, in an objective and transparent manner. Make all aid granted to the fishing industry public.
|Public support for fossil fuels
|The IPCC & the International Energy Agency recommend that no new oil and gas fields should be opened if we hope to stay below 2°C.
Through ‘Partnerships for a just energy transition’, France presents gas as a “transition energy” and supports the development of new gas fields in South Africa and Senegal.
|Publicly condemn all new oil and gas projects undertaken by Total Energies, and/or backed by French banks.
Abandon all public policies aimed at presenting gas as a “transition energy”.
Legislate to prohibit French companies from participating in the development, financing and exploitation of new fossil resources.
Support the adoption of an international agreement on the non-proliferation of fossil fuels.
Image: Screenshot of Emmanuel Macron’s televised speech, September 25, 2023.