France’s Environment Minister Resigns Live on Radio, a Blow to Macron

Nicolas Hulot, who quit his post as environment minister, said Tuesday that in France, the environment “isn’t being handled like a priority issue.”CreditCreditChristophe Petit Tesson/EPA, via Shutterstock

PARIS — France’s high-profile environment minister was fed up with what he considered insufficient progress by his government on issues like climate change and clean energy. So on Tuesday, he quit his post in dramatic fashion, dealing a blow to President Emmanuel Macron’s green credentials.

The minister, Nicolas Hulot, an environmental activist and former television star who regularly ranked as one of Mr. Macron’s most popular ministers, made the surprise announcement during a live interview on France Inter radio in which he said he no longer wanted to “lie to myself.”

“I don’t want to create the illusion that my presence in the government means that we are up to the task on these issues, and so I have decided to leave the government today,” Mr. Hulot told the stunned radio hosts, one of whom asked him whether he was being serious.

The abruptness of the decision came as a surprise: Mr. Hulot told France Inter that he had not warned Mr. Macron, the prime minister or even his own staff about the announcement.

He said that he had considered quitting for several months after an “accumulation of disappointments,” but that the decision was precipitated on Monday night when he saw an uninvited lobbyist at a meeting with the president over a relaxation of hunting rules.

He called that episode “symptomatic” of the influence of lobbyists in “circles of power.”

It had been widely expected that Mr. Hulot would eventually step down, despite several victories, including the government’s decision to drop a controversial airport project in western France and to end sales of gas and diesel cars by 2040.

Mr. Hulot became environment minister in May 2017, when Mr. Macron formed his first cabinet. It was a notable catch for the newly elected leader, after several previous French presidents had been unable to persuade Mr. Hulot, a free-spirited activist, to join the government.

But his environmentalist bent did not square well with Mr. Macron’s free-market agenda, and he struggled to win policy battles within the government. Green activists criticized him for being the government’s token environmentalist.

“It’s a moment of truth for the French,” Yannick Jadot, a Green lawmaker for France in the European Parliament, told newspaper Le Monde of the minister’s resignation.

Accusing the president of manipulating Mr. Hulot, Mr. Jadot said, “There are those who talk environment, and there are those who do something about it.”

Mr. Hulot had told the newspaper Libération this month, in off-the-record comments made public by the paper after his resignation, “My problem is very simple: Either I leave and it will be much worse, or I stay and there will be no revolution.”

Mr. Macron, speaking during a visit to Denmark on Tuesday, said he “respected” Mr. Hulot’s decision, calling him “a free man.” But he defended the government’s track record on the environment, saying at a news conference in Copenhagen that “it is not a fight that is won overnight.”

Mr. Macron has championed the fight against climate change on the international stage, vowing to #MakeThePlanetGreatAgain after President Trump pulled the United States out of the 2015 Paris climate deal.

But the French leader has been criticized domestically by environmental groups and activists for postponing a campaign promise to cut nuclear energy’s share of electricity production in France to 50 percent, down from 75 percent, and for not aggressively tackling issues like the use of pesticides in agriculture.

Michel Dubromel, the president of France Nature Environment, a federation of environmental groups, said in a statement on Tuesday that he shared the analysis that Mr. Hulot was “too often isolated” in the government.

“Despite his efforts, the track record for this first year is meager, on a concrete level,” Mr. Dubromel said. “The gap between the urgency and the seriousness of the problems, which we see as real every day, and the timid progress, or even the steps backward, is too big.”

Mr. Hulot was initially best known to the French public for presenting television shows that aimed to raise awareness about the environment. He later created an environmental foundation and was nominated in 2012 by the French presidency as a special climate envoy ahead of the 2015 Paris summit meeting that led to the signing of the climate deal.

“The planet is becoming a sauna, our natural resources are running out, biodiversity is melting like snow in the sun, and it still isn’t being handled like a priority issue,” he lamented on Tuesday.

Emma Bubola contributed reporting.

Follow Aurelien Breeden on Twitter @aurelienbrd.

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