Blog | Feb. 10, 2020

President Macron says he cares about forests – but will he put France’s money where his mouth is?

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French President Emmanuel Macron wants to be seen as global climate champion. He dubbed the fires that devastated the Amazon last summer an “international crisis” and led global efforts to raise funds, as well as a number of other forest preservation initiatives.

With apocalyptic Australian fires ushering in the new decade, his words ring truer than ever. But they will ring hollow until he tackles the problem in his own backyard.


Agribusiness plays a critical role in the deforestation of tropical rainforests like the Amazon, as President Macron stressed at the UN General Assembly: “predatory agricultural activities [are] not compatible with biodiversity and the forest.”

He’s right – and he should take a closer look at the financial institutions that make this possible. Global Witness has found that between 2013 and 2019 French financial institutions have backed some of the most damaging agribusiness companies across the globe to the tune of almost €2 billion euros. Through their production of goods like palm oil, beef, and rubber, these companies are aiding the destruction in the world’s largest tropical rainforests. This makes France the second-largest source of funds backing deforestation in the EU over that period.

The irony is that France is one of the few countries that has recognised the role of its consumption and investments in fuelling deforestation and pledged to act. A national strategy to tackle imported deforestation, agreed in 2018, sets out to incentivise financial actors to incorporate the fight against deforestation into their investment policies and strategies. It also extends to the deforestation risks of their financing and investments.

France has also led the way with the adoption of its landmark ‘Duty of Vigilance’ law in 2017. It requires French companies, including banks, of a certain size to identify, mitigate and prevent human rights abuses and environmental harm throughout their supply chain and financing operations. They have to report annually on these risks, as well as on measures put in place to mitigate them.

These commitments look good on paper, but they need enforcement. In 2020, they must be followed with urgent and bold action to shift corporate behaviour and unlock real progress. As our investigations have revealed, money is still freely flowing to companies destroying tropical forests to produce commodities like palm oil, beef, and rubber.

Our new analysis highlights that since the adoption of the Duty of Vigilance law nearly three years ago, major French banks BNP Paribas, Crédit Agricole and Natixis have all financially backed global agribusinesses with operations linked to deforestation in the Amazon and the Congo Basin, despite having adopted environmental and forests policies.

Not only are French banks financing companies associated with deforestation, a recent report from Friends of the Earth France and Oxfam France revealed the biggest French banks – BNP Paribas, Société Générale, Crédit Agricole, Banque Populaire and Caisse d’Epargne – have financed or invested in the fossil fuel industry, whose emissions reached more than 2 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent in 2018. That’s 4.5 times France’s own emissions generated in 2018.

As things stand, French banks’ behaviour will continue to undermine France’s global climate commitments. President Macron has the tools to stop this happening. To cement his position as a global leader on climate, he must deliver radical, transformative change at home and rally international efforts to help save our forests. There’s no time to lose.


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