Grand Débat National: the ecological transition can no longer wait

On March 16, almost 350,000 citizens marched in 220 towns and cities in France to highlight the urgent need to tackle the climate crisis. At what was called the March of the Century, the shared feeling was that it is no longer time for debate, but time for action. And now!

And yet Western governments remain slow to react, trapped in outdated thinking that continues to oppose economic development and the climate issue.

The Regional Citizens’ Conferences, organized jointly by Public Missions and Res publica parallel to the Grand Débat National, brought the voice of citizens into the debate, covering four major themes including the ecological transition.

The first finding was that citizens want to debate with one another and want to be heard by policy-makers. The organization of the State and public services is viewed as illegible and compartmentalized, but the participants put forward bold yet structured proposals to demonstrate that a new form collaboration is possible and desirable.

Among the citizens’ proposals, there was first a strong desire to curb the power of the lobbies, so that national and international governments and public authorities can act discerningly, quickly, and effectively for the ecological transition.

The citizens also see many unacceptable inconsistencies, such as the failure to tax aircraft and maritime fuel, while fuel for private vehicles is taxed. Citizens understand that collective efforts are required and they are willing to take action at their level, for example by offering to change their consumer habits (buying local and organic food, reducing waste at source) and getting involved in local decision-making processes.

Four main wishes emerged from these group discussions:

  • Develop an agricultural model that is more respectful of the environment and animals, healthy for consumers and remunerates farmers at fair value.
  • Seek alternatives to the private car through the development of public transport, among other things.
  • Find alternatives to current energy choices, since the replacement of fossil fuels is deemed too slow, and nuclear power is still a divisive issue.
  • Make waste sorting and recycling the norm, everywhere.

Solution proposals quickly emerged from the discussions, proving that citizens can be a driving force. Take, for example, the following proposals on food:

  • Develop tax incentives to make healthy local food affordable for all, e.g. taxes that are lower on local products but higher on processed or imported goods. Eating well should not be a luxury.
  • Promote sales/purchasing cooperatives and community-supported agriculture (the AMAPs in France), etc., so that citizens are no longer just consumers but become co-organizers.
  • Subsidize training and/or retraining for farmers and fishers so that they can make their working methods more eco-responsible. It should not be about pitting the “good guys” in the sector against the “bad guys”, but instead about supporting and assisting a change in professional practices.

These conferences, like the other participatory approaches previously organized by Missions Publiques – at the time of the COP 21, for example – confirmed a key point: participants are keen for public decision-makers to draw on collective citizen intelligence when shaping the public policies of tomorrow.

For a summary of the citizens’ ideas, see