This was this month’s headline news in France, but not only, which is probably even more revealing.
The municipal elections held in late June in France confirmed a growing trend in Europe: over the last few years, candidates with a clear ecological transition agenda have been chosen to close the chapter on showcase, congested cities, plagued with incessant thermal-vehicle traffic, in which it is now impossible to find a decent place to live.
Becoming a global metropolis, competing to attract the most innovative, cosmopolitan and educated social classes is no longer a priority. The health crisis has abruptly opened our eyes to what truly matters in our daily lives. Our heroine is the baker round the corner, who, by the way, is also overqualified.
The mayors of Dublin, Budapest, Marseille and other cities are all Greens at the helm of municipal coalitions, heralding profound changes to the “urban agenda”. Is this just the newest craze in the big cities or the sign of a more radical transformation? Our analysis is that the ecological transition is not just the latest fashion but a ground swell, as confirmed by the conclusions of the Citizens’ Climate Convention.
In France, for more than 9 months, 150 randomly selected citizens discussed what policies should be implemented to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by 2030. Their 149 proposals were presented to the President of the French Republic on 21st June. The method chosen to prepare these proposals was rigorous, helping the participants decide what issues to address as a priority and which experts to consult. Their conclusions are adamant. The message is the same as that of the High Council for the Climate[i] whose latest report was published in early July: we must speed up the transition, place energy sufficiency much higher on the political agenda and consider the proposed measures as a coherent system affecting all sectors and the entire organisation of society.
Aware of their responsibilities, they want to become involved over the long term and will follow the implementation of their proposals (Emmanuel Macron has promised to keep 146 of these, out of 149). One of the proposals rejected by the French President, a highly symbolic one, advocates “placing environmental protection above civil liberties and even above our democratic rules”[ii]. And yet, this is the central issue we will have to discuss. What is the value of this freedom to destroy our living conditions and those of the future generations?
The recent municipal elections and the conclusions of these unprecedented citizens’ assemblies (a similar exercise has taken place in the United Kingdom) seem to provide solutions and to place limits on our current conception of personal freedoms like our right to consume and exhaust the planet beyond its capacity to regenerate itself. But they also involve making very different societal, and therefore organisational and public policy choices, thus disrupting the traditional relationship between territorial levels, between players and between sectors.
The local level, the closest to the daily life and aspirations of citizens, has a head start in this field. It will therefore be up to it to guide the national, European and global levels into making the necessary decisions!
[i] Every year in France, the High Council for the Climate composed of independent leading scientists assesses national public policies against the low-carbon trajectory adopted by the government and any gaps between annual trends and the 2050 objectives.
[ii] Watch the French President’s speech on the 149 proposals in its entirety at https://www.elysee.fr/emmanuel-macron/2020/06/29/le-president-emmanuel-macron-repond-aux-150-citoyens-de-la-convention-citoyenne-pour-le-climat