Macron, Le Pen cozy up to green voters ahead of French election

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In their tussle to attract votes ahead of France’s presidential election runoff, centrist Emmanuel Macron and far-right Marine Le Pen have sought to fend off criticism of their climate policies – described as insufficient and even dangerous by environmental groups.

Both candidates were let off the hook during the first round of campaigning, with purchasing power, security, health, pensions and immigration dominating the debate.

But a day after the battle lines were drawn for a Macron-Le Pen rematch of their 2017 duel, Greenpeace warned the election result was a major defeat for the climate and the environment. Neither side was an acceptable choice.

The writing was already on the wall for dozens of NGOs and think tanks who rated the environment platforms of the initial 12 presidential hopefuls, and who consistently found Macron and Le Pen lacking.

The former was reprimanded for his failure to ban dangerous pesticides and for pushing back important climate targets; the latter for her plans to pull France out of the European green deal and rid the French countryside of its wind turbines.

"On Sunday, April 24, we will have to choose between very bad and worse than very bad," climate expert Jean-Marc Jancovici, of the Shift Project, told L’Express.

Rally for green vote

The race is now on for Macron and Le Pen to win over the 7.7 million people who supported leftist Jean-Luc Mélenchon in the first round, and the 1.6 million who voted for ecologist Yannick Jadot – who's already given his personal backing to the incumbent President.

Since his first-round triumph, Macron has talked up his plans for a green economy, promising to transform France into a “great environmental nation”. Le Pen, meanwhile, is pushing “localism" and buying French-made products while giving farmers incentives for preserving nature.

Under the far-right leader, 80 percent of food in school canteens would need to be sourced from French agricultural products.

Macron wants France to be an EU climate pioneer and is leading the charge for a European carbon tax, while Le Pen is focused on stamping out the “punitive ecology" and “globalism” measures that she says are threatening the French way of life.

Campaigning in Marseille at the weekend, Macron vowed to cut air pollution, plant 140 million trees, develop a 100 percent electric car industry and make France the first major country to stop using gas, oil and coal.

His next prime minister, he said, would be “directly responsible for ecological planning”, while separate ministers for energy and environment would be appointed.

Le Pen, Macron warned, was a climate sceptic whose policies of shutting down wind turbines – which she says are a blight on the landscape – and turning her back on European climate ambitions were untenable.

Unlike Donald Trump, Le Pen has no plans to pull France out of the Paris Agreement – and is in favour of bringing down emissions within the agreed timeframe. But she wants companies to foot the bill for reaching net zero targets by 2050.

Framing herself as a protector of the people, Le Pen wants to end “overly expensive” investments in solar and wind power, which she says would allow her to slash value added tax on petrol from 20 percent to 5.5 percent.

Fuel price hikes were the founding concern of Yellow Vest protesters that forced Macron to drop a so-called “green” tax at the pump.

“The French should be able to continue taking their family out in their cars, taking baths, enjoying the wood fire in the fireplace and celebrating Christmas,” Le Pen declared.

Nuclear ambitions

In order to bring down emissions, she’s pledged to go even further than Macron in building up France’s already dominant nuclear energy industry, which provides two-thirds of the country’s electricity.

While Macron wants to invest in six new generation reactors – to be built in tandem with a "massive deployment" of renewables including 50 offshore wind farms – Le Pen is vying for an ambitious 20 new reactors.

Her nuclear project, named Marie Curie, includes reopening France’s Fessenheim nuclear plant, which is already being dismantled after it was closed in 2020, as well as extending the life of existing power plants to 60 years.

Given the amount of time it takes to build a reactor and the billions of euros of investment needed, critics say plans to add 20 more reactors to France’s nuclear fleet will be tough to achieve.

In terms of consistency on nuclear policy, however, it appears Le Pen has the upper hand – as back in 2017 Macron had sought to reduce France’s dependence on nuclear power.

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