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By Using an Overseas Territory, France Tries to Save the Amazon


President Emmanuel Macron of France, left, with President Evo Morales of Bolivia at the Alliance for Rainforests event at the UN, which took place in conjunction with the Climate Action Summit, Sept. 23, 2019. RICK BAJORNAS/UN PHOTO

President Emmanuel Macron of France is using one of its overseas territory and a former colony, French Guyana, to reinforce France’s intervention in the region to save the world’s largest rainforest, the Amazon.

The move by France reflects its increasing efforts to expand its influence internationally in highly visible ways. That includes trying to rescue the Iran nuclear deal by having organized the surprise visit by Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister, to the Group of 7 meeting in August in Biarritz.

“We are a member of the Amazonian Nations — I believe in it because it’s for the planet’s better good,” Macron told the media after his speech at the Climate Action Summit on Sept. 23. Macron attended an Alliance for Rainforests conference on the same day with a Guyanese delegation, including the president of the Guyana General Assembly, Rodolphe Alexandre. Representatives from Bolivia, Chile and Colombia also attended the meeting.

Alexandre supported France’s international call to action, saying at the rainforest conference that it is necessary to “preserve this territory, a [Unesco] World Heritage Site.”

A few days before the annual opening session of the UN General Assembly, on Sept. 17, France’s ambassador to the UN, Nicolas de Rivière, reminded reporters at the UN that the country’s largest territorial border is not in Europe but an ocean away: the 450-mile-long boundary between French Guyana and Brazil.

“It’s a good thing that Macron uses this overseas territory to protect the Amazon,” Samuel Leré, a spokesperson for the Nicolas Hulot Foundation, an environmental group, told PassBlue. (Hulot was the French minister of ecological and solidary transition but resigned in 2018, disagreeing with Macron’s climate change policies at the time.)

But France’s record on the Amazon is more complicated than Macron’s international call to save it.

France’s pitch came amid news that Montagne d’Or (“Golden Mountain”), a multimillion-dollar project, was canceled. Macron was criticized in French Guyana for supporting such a mining project, which can lead to deforestation, while criticizing Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil for doing such actions in his own country, particularly in the Amazon.

At the rainforest event at the UN, Alexandre asked the international community to be open to economic development, saying the mining project can be “responsible, transposable and transparent.”

Samuel Relé, a spokesperson for Nicolas Hulot, told PassBlue, however, that Macron “promises a lot of environment and climate change, but he doesn’t always implement it at home.”

Bolsonaro did not take part in the rainforest meeting, but a delegation of Brazilian governors attended it.


Stéphanie Fillion is a New York-based reporter specializing in foreign affairs and human rights who has been writing for PassBlue regularly for a year, including co-producing UN-Scripted, a new podcast series on global affairs through a UN lens. She has a master’s degree in journalism, politics and global affairs from Columbia University and a B.A. in political science from McGill University. Fillion was awarded a European Union in Canada Young Journalists fellowship in 2015 and was an editorial fellow for La Stampa in 2017. She speaks French, English and Italian.

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