Climate change is a threat to international security, France’s influential Environment Minister Segolene Royal warned Saturday – adopting an unusually hawkish stance as she heads to the U.S. to push for a global deal on reducing emissions at a landmark Paris conference this year.
She will have to push especially hard in Washington, but she relishes the challenge. Royal, longtime former partner of President Francois Hollande and one of France’s most experienced female politicians, is playing a key role ahead of U.N. climate talks in Paris in December.
Amid skepticism in the Republican-led U.S. Congress about the science of climate change and resistance to a legally binding treaty, President Barack Obama also recently argued that rising sea levels and resource shortages could threaten the readiness of U.S. forces and aggravate instability around the globe.
“If everyone realizes … that the cost of inaction is much higher than the cost of action, then I think we can convince some members of Congress who are still reticent,” Royal told The Associated Press in an interview in Paris on Saturday.
She said Obama was “right” to use the national security argument, one rarely in heard in Europe, where people largely accept humanity’s responsibility for global warming.
“The climate question is also at the heart of the security question,” Royal said, noting in particular the growing number of refugees fleeing climatic disasters and chronic shortages.
While France is pushing for a legally binding deal, Royal suggested openness to a backup plan that could involve regulatory measures not subject to full Congressional ratification.
One key moment in the buildup to the Paris conference comes next week: U.N. negotiations in Bonn, Germany, seen as a test of how close or far countries are from a deal.
Royal stressed the need to speed up and to reduce the size of the draft document – currently around 80 pages, to include the wishes of as many countries as possible. France is hoping for a final document closer to 20 pages that focuses on areas of agreement.
She also argued that it’s urgent to reduce the “abyss” between poor countries suffering from the effects of global warming and richer countries that are causing them.
That gap has led to failure in past climate talks, notably in Copenhagen in 2009.
Negotiators are trying to learn from past mistakes to improve chances for an agreement in Paris, which would mark the first time all countries agree to do something to limit emissions of global warming gases, primarily carbon dioxide, from the burning of coal, oil and gas.
Climate changes in recent decades have led to flooding of coastal areas, disruptions to agriculture and drinking water and the spread of diseases.
Royal and France are trying to get companies aboard a climate deal, arguing that it makes long-term economic sense to reduce emissions. This has caused protest from NGOs who say it’s hypocritical to seek sponsorship from oil and construction companies whose profit model depends on emissions.
“We must put everyone in the game,” Royal said. She argued that governments must “prepare the post-petroleum era, and have the will and courage to say it.”
Royal heads Thursday for the United States where she will meet Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz as well as Senators Ed Markey, Barbara Boxer, Sheldon Whitehouse and Brian Schatz.