French President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday urged the “fight of the century” to combat climate change and preserve the environment, as he visited an iconic Alpine glacier at risk from global warming.
Macron is keen to burnish his green credentials as he begins the road towards 2022 presidential elections although sceptics have not always been impressed by his ambitious environmental rhetoric.
On a high-profile visit to the foot of Mont Blanc, France‘s highest mountain, in the heart of the Alps, Macron was taken to the Mer de Glace (“Sea of Ice”), a valley glacier which has awed travellers for centuries.
Marching through the glacier on a special walkway, Macron inspected a natural wonder that has receded by 8-10 metres (26 to 32 feet) annually, or two kilometres (1.2 miles) since 1850.
“I did not expect a melting as quick as this. It leaves a huge impression. You see how the failure to take decisions has resulted in that,” the president said.
Reverting later to a suit and tie for a speech in the Alpine resort of Chamonix, Macron said the search for a new way for humans to live that leaves less impact on the environment “will be the fight of the century”.
But Macron — who has on occasion sparred with activists including Sweden’s Greta Thunberg — insisted that protecting the environment was not in conflict with economic development.
“We need to show that this strategy is compatible with economic progress because this is the strategy in which I believe,” he added.
Urging no stigmatisation of agriculture, Macron added: “We will only succeed in this struggle if we bring everyone together. This has not always been our strong point in this country.”
He said the fight to save biodiversity is “indivisible” from the fight against global warming.
Macron is keen to make the environment a key theme of the second half of his mandate as he emerges from a bruising standoff with unions over pension reform.
However not all of his moves in the area have met with success and his speech in Chamonix contained no new major announcements.
His first appointment as environment minister, celebrity environmentalist Nicolas Hulot, quit during a live radio interview in August 2018, saying his cabinet colleagues were doing too little to tackle the climate emergency.
“We still have a long way to go, which is why the year 2020 will be a decisive year for biodiversity, the year in which we can start to make a difference,” said Macron.