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French Environment Minister Quits Over Government's Inadequate Green Policies

Politics
Nicolas Hulot at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference. COP PARIS / Flickr

France's environment minister, Nicolas Hulot, abruptly resigned from his post during a live French radio interview Tuesday, citing "an accumulation of disappointments" in Emmanuel Macron's government.

He said the government has made inadequate progress in reducing the use of pesticides, protecting soil health and defending biodiversity. Hulot said he did not tell his wife, Macron or his prime minister about the decision.


This is a blow to Macron, whose approval ratings have dipped at home. The French president promised to "make our planet great again," a slogan he introduced after President Trump announced the U.S. would withdraw from the Paris agreement.

Hulot, an environmental activist and former nature television program host, was favored by young people and was consistently popular in polls. He said Tuesday that environmental measures were "always relegated to the bottom of the list of priorities."

"I don't want to lie anymore," Hulot said. "I don't want to create the illusion that my presence in the government means that we are on top of these issues and therefore I take the decision to quit this government."

Hulot's exit comes after the government's plans to relax hunting restrictions to include cheaper hunting licenses and expanding the number of species that could be shot, the Guardian reported. Hulot said the move made him aware of the power hunting lobbyists had over the government.

He also had differences with the government's decision to drop its long-held 2025 target of reducing the share of nuclear energy in its power mix to 50 percent. He also wanted to ban the herbicide glyphosate but was overruled by the agriculture ministry, according to the Guardian.

Earlier this month, a California jury awarded $289 million to a school groundskeeper who claimed Monsanto's glyphosate-based weedkiller Roundup gave him cancer.

Hulot described the verdict as the "beginning of a war" against glyphosate in Europe.

"If we wait, such poisons will not be prevented from doing their damage and the victims will be excessively numerous," he said to BFM radio.

The government was taken aback by the resignation.

"The most basic of courtesies would have been to warn the president of the republic and the prime minister," government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux told the BFM news channel, as quoted by the Guardian.

The Greens in the European Parliament lamented Hulot's exit.

"Hulot was a hope for the ecologists but Macron's government doesn't defend the environment, biodiversity or public health—it listens more to powerful lobbies," the group tweeted today.

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A volcano erupts on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island on Dec. 9, 2019. Michael Schade / Twitter

A powerful volcano on Monday rocked an uninhabited island frequented by tourists about 30 miles off New Zealand's coast. Authorities have confirmed that five people died. They expect that number to rise as some are missing and police officials issued a statement that flights around the islands revealed "no signs of life had been seen at any point,", as The Guardian reported.

"Based on the information we have, we do not believe there are any survivors on the island," the police said in their official statement. "Police is working urgently to confirm the exact number of those who have died, further to the five confirmed deceased already."

The eruption happened on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island, an islet jutting out of the Bay of Plenty, off the country's North Island. The island is privately owned and is typically visited for day-trips by thousands of tourists every year, according to The New York Times.

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At the time of the eruption on Monday, about 50 passengers from the Ovation of Seas were on the island, including more than 30 who were part of a Royal Caribbean cruise trip, according to CNN. Twenty-three people, including the five dead, were evacuated from the island.

The eruption occurred at 2:11 pm local time on Monday, as footage from a crater camera owned and operated by GeoNet, New Zealand's geological hazards agency, shows. The camera also shows dozens of people walking near the rim as white smoke billows just before the eruption, according to Reuters.

Police were unable to reach the island because searing white ash posed imminent danger to rescue workers, said John Tims, New Zealand's deputy police commissioner, as he stood next to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in a press conference, as The New York Times reported. Tims said rescue workers would assess the safety of approaching the island on Tuesday morning. "We know the urgency to go back to the island," he told reporters.

"The physical environment is unsafe for us to return to the island," Tims added, as CNN reported. "It's important that we consider the health and safety of rescuers, so we're taking advice from experts going forward."

Authorities have had no communication with anyone on the island. They are frantically working to identify how many people remain and who they are, according to CNN.

Geologists said the eruption is not unexpected and some questioned why the island is open to tourism.

"The volcano has been restless for a few weeks, resulting in the raising of the alert level, so that this eruption is not really a surprise," said Bill McGuire, emeritus professor of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London, as The Guardian reported.

"White Island has been a disaster waiting to happen for many years," said Raymond Cas, emeritus professor at Monash University's school of earth, atmosphere and environment, as The Guardian reported. "Having visited it twice, I have always felt that it was too dangerous to allow the daily tour groups that visit the uninhabited island volcano by boat and helicopter."

The prime minister arrived Monday night in Whakatane, the town closest to the eruption, where day boats visiting the island are docked. Whakatane has a large Maori population.

Ardern met with local council leaders on Monday. She is scheduled to meet with search and rescue teams and will speak to the media at 7 a.m. local time (1 p.m. EST), after drones survey the island, as CNN reported.