Environmental protection - Speech by M. Hubert Védrine, Minister of Foreign Affairs, at the Paris International Conference Centre, Paris 30.11.2001


Protecting the environment is essential for our planet. So logically it’s a priority of our diplomatic action, especially since the 1992 Rio Earth Summit. Ever since then we have stepped up our efforts to address the growing concerns resulting from realization of the effects of predatory development.

However, despite substantial progress, we must clearly recognize that at international level there’s still no consensus about how to protect the environment, with differences in approach between industrialized countries and also a deep divide between them and the developing countries.

For all these reasons, environmental diplomacy is a foreign policy sphere in its own right. (...)

1) In the context of its goal of humanizing globalization and the need to think about future generations, this government is engaged in resolute international action to promote environmental protection.


Back in 1997, I created the new, interministerial job of Ambassador for the Environment. The aim is not only to bolster France’s presence in the international fora responsible for drawing up and monitoring the enforcement of international environmental law, but also to strengthen France’s capacity to analyse, forecast, respond and make proposals in this sphere. (...)


International environmental law has made undeniable headway since 1992, as shown not just by the conclusion of the Montreal Protocol on trade in GM food and crops, which endorsed the precautionary principle, but also by the work on biodiversity and forests. The enhancement of maritime safety, to which France has made a major contribution in the wake of the Erika catastrophe - whose second anniversary is drawing near - must also be emphasized.


But it is, of course, the progress in the negotiations on the fight against the greenhouse effect which has legitimately held the public’s attention. I am delighted by the favourable outcome of the Marrakesh negotiations which pave the way for the entry into force of the Kyoto Protocol. What cause is more deserving than this one of our mobilization and that of the entire world? I deplore the attitude of the Americans. I call on them as quickly as possible to subscribe to the international agreement reached without them in Bonn and Marrakesh. It would not be acceptable for States which have announced their agreement to hide behind the United States in order to prevent the Protocol from entering into force. On their part, France and the whole European Union must, straight away, take further measures to cut greenhouse gas emissions. Europe has got only halfway towards fulfilling its Kyoto commitments. I am pleased that, pursuant to the Marrakesh agreement, the ability of nuclear technology to contribute to the fight against the greenhouse effect has been recognized.


From this point of view, we must welcome the first positive step constituted by the inclusion in Doha of environmental concerns in the next round of multilateral trade negotiations at the WTO. But this is only the start of a process. Through the wording of the Doha Declaration not just the developing countries, but the United States too, made their misgivings clear, including those regarding the precautionary principle. But for the first time, at the insistence of the Europeans and more especially of France, strengthening environmental rules has become an integral part, like improving market access, of the unique commitment without which there won’t be any agreement on the round. The lever exists, provided we know how to use it, through coordination of WTO rules and environmental agreements. I’d like us, without delay, to work all together, State, members of parliament and those outside government.


2) We need to take these achievements as our starting point in our approach to the key environmental conferences coming up in the very near future and particularly the Johannesburg Sustainable Development Summit in September 2002. (...) I should like this Summit, after Doha and the Conference on Financing for Development in Mexico in March 2002, to contribute to greater account being taken of the concerns aroused by globalization, particularly in the environmental sphere.

(...) This objective won’t be easy to achieve. The state of the world is not conducive to optimism as regards regulating globalization and especially the environment. Even though the positive result of Doha is encouraging, we still have vivid memories of the splits of Seattle and Durban.

I want today to suggest some ways of achieving this, rather than ready-made solutions. We shall make real progress in international regulation - on the environmental front as elsewhere - only if we go beyond paying lip service to it and analyse the obstacles facing us so that we become better equipped to overcome them. (...)

The developing countries see environmental concerns as an attack on their ability to make the most of their comparative advantages. They are making this clear on all the issues under consideration, including the idea of moving towards the creation of a World Environmental Organization, as France has proposed on several occasions.

To resolve this problem, I suggest that we take further the approach defined at the Rio Summit, which inspired the Kyoto protocol, that of sharing and differentiating responsibility:

- sharing it in the face of global challenges;

- differentiating it by organizing transitional stages for the developing countries;

- the effort to bring developing countries up to the level of the developed world must be encouraged by technology and financial transfers.

But our partners from the developed countries must also be involved in this analysis of the obstacles to regulation. This applies particularly to our American partners. Quite obviously, there are still cultural differences of approach with the United States on globalization and especially on the environment. Clearly, the American public find it difficult to modify their behaviour, for example in the energy sphere. The United States is reluctant, in this area as in others, to enter into new multilateral commitments. We need a better understanding of US attitudes, to know more about the various players and agree to take some of their approaches on board, without giving way on what’s essential. I’d like to give you two illustrations of this:

- the first concerns the link between risk and precaution. So we must make further progress towards getting the precautionary principle recognized in international fora. But in so doing we mustn’t end up with a new obscurantism. Scientific progress, in the framework of democracy and transparency prevailing in France, can’t be the enemy of the environment. It will be an asset in the international negotiations;

- the second illustration concerns the proper coordination, to safeguard the environment, of the operation of the market and establishment of binding rules. Unfettered deregulation is the enemy of the environment. The need to protect the environment renders public authority intervention, both at national and European and multilateral levels, fully legitimate. But this State intervention in no way rules out the operation of certain market mechanisms. Here the creation, to back up public policies, of an emissions trading market to combat the greenhouse effect, comes especially to mind.

To increase environmental protection, the European Union is an effective tool, as we saw with the negotiation of the Kyoto Protocol. On these matters, as on all those to do with regulating globalization, we need to keep up the effort to strengthen European unity since all Europeans don’t, as if by magic, automatically see things the same way as we do. From this point of view, the setting-up of a Franco-German group on globalization which has started work, inter alia on the environment, will increase this mutual understanding, as far as France and Germany are concerned.

International environmental protection calls, as does everything to do with the regulation of globalization, for strong conviction and determination in the pursuit of the objectives. (...)./.

Published on 11/04/2005

top of the page