Navigation – Plan du site
Special report

Can Europe Rise to the Challenge?

Climate and Environment
Cet article est une traduction de :
l’Europe peut-elle relever le défi ?

Notes de la rédaction

Symposium organized in collaboration with the Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations (IDDRI) and the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI).

Source: La lettre, no. 39, March 2015

Texte intégral

1The Collège de France had the immense honour of welcoming the President of the French Republic François Hollande and his Majesty King Carl XVI of Sweden for the opening of the symposium “Climate and Environment”, which took place in the Marguerite de Navarre lecture theatre on 3 December 2014

Symposium Opening Address by Administrator Serge Haroche

2On behalf of the Collège de France, I am honoured to welcome you to this symposium on the climate and environmental challenges faced by Europe, organized in conjunction with the Stockholm Environment Institute and the Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations. This symposium is taking place on the occasion of the State visit of their Majesties the King and Queen of Sweden, to France at the invitation of the President of the Republic.

3For the first time in the Earth’s history, a biological species has become the dominant agent governing the evolution of the planet’s climate and biosphere. For hundreds of millions of years, this evolution was governed by blind natural forces, continental drifts, glaciations and global warming, as well as flips of the Earth’s magnetic field, the effects of which were felt over long timescales, counted in millions of years.

4By contrast, humanity is now exerting decisive pressure on the Earth’s equilibrium, inducing very rapid changes on the scale of a century. Like the unconscious agents of past ages, will it be a blind force, unable to alter the course of that which it has triggered?

5Or will we be able to use our intellect to accompany the evolution that we are bringing about, to control its effects and maintain acceptable living conditions, both for ourselves and for the species with which we share the planet? If there is to be a positive answer to the latter question, we need to foster constructive dialogue between science and politics. Only science can objectively observe the state of the Earth and its evolution, estimate probable temperature and ocean level changes, and evaluate their long-term consequences. This also allows science to tell us what can be done to moderate the expected changes or to adapt to them, and what realistic action can be envisaged, taking into account the laws of physics which, unlike those promulgated by humans, cannot be repealed or amended at will.

6The powers that be must therefore make choices to decide on desirable goals. Their desirability depends on economic, sociological and even psychological factors, and must be defined once the realm of possibilities has been scientifically evaluated, not the reverse, as has often been the case. For example, ideal proportions to reach at national or EU level, between nuclear, thermal and renewable energies, must be determined not on an ideological basis but on that of serious estimates of the feasibility of energy storage, transportation and flexible production systems, and on precise considerations of scale. The solutions to the problems facing the world can therefore stem only from serious dialogue between scientists and politicians – dialogue made all the more necessary by the complexity of climate and energy challenges and their close interconnection.

Photographs (from left to right) His Majesty the King of Sweden Carl XVI Gustaf, lbrahim Baylan, Serge Haroche, Jean-Marie Lehn, François Weil, John Scheid, François Hollande, Ségolène Royal.

7Time is a crucial factor to take into account in this dialogue. The necessary actions will have to be carried out swiftly, on the scale of the decisive century that lies ahead, but will have to be considered slowly in the time frame of politics. Democratic countries live to the rhythm of frequent elections and rulers naturally want their supporters to enjoy the results of their decisions without having to wait. They must also bear in mind the difficulty of sensitizing an electorate that is experiencing economic difficulties in the present and will be subjected to further events in twenty, thirty or a hundred years’ time. Science, unlike politics, is built on the long term; it evolves on the scale of the decade rather than the year. Current innovations are the fruit of research that began long ago. A striking example is LEDs, the development of which was rewarded with the Physics Nobel Prize. In the future, these highly energy-efficient sources of white light may provide urban lighting, not to mention their many other applications. The fundamental discovery that led to this innovation, that of blue-light emitting diodes, dates back to the 1980s. Research takes time and will always take time, just as, by definition, its progress is unpredictable. Most of the discoveries that have profoundly changed our everyday lives over the last fifty years – the laser, the computer, Internet – stem from fundamental research fuelled by the curiosity of researchers who had not imagined what new technology their discoveries could produce in the long term.

8No matter how impatient we are to see problems solved, it is impossible to short-circuit this long journey. Controlling climate change and developing alternative energies cannot result from artificially programmed action with a fixed schedule, decided on bureaucratically. Success will depend on the evolution of multiple projects, initiated by researchers themselves, and on massive support for fundamental research, the progress of which will gradually open up new, as yet unpredictable pathways for applied research.

9To succeed together in the critical period of a few decades awaiting humanity, science and democracy will have to reconcile their different rhythms and together make the emergence of technological solutions, along with mindsets and lifestyles, move forward. This is the immense challenge facing Europe and our civilization at large.

Speech by François Hollande, President of the Republic

10We are at the Collège de France, an eminent place of knowledge, a source of pride for our country, for its research, and for the women and men who devote themselves to scientific progress. It is important for us to be able to discuss the question of our future and our climate here, in this distinguished place of knowledge, and of its production and its dissemination. We must always foster dialogue between science and democracy, as Mr Serge Haroche has just done. Democracy has its rhythms; science has plenty of time, but it is also on alert. It knows that its work will lead to decisions being made.

Democracy – even if it is subject to the constraints of elections, and that is a good thing – must make long-term choices. The first is to give research the means to develop. The second is to make decisions that will have consequences far beyond those who made them.

11Politics also involves understanding that there are interests exceeding those that brought me where I am today, and that there is honour and even dignity in being able to act on future generations. This dialogue between science and democracy also shows us where we stand. All experts are now virtually unanimous. They may often contradict one another, but this simply allows science to evolve … What do these experts tell us?

12First, that climate change is a reality; it has even accelerated. This is undeniable scientific data. The influence of human activities has been demonstrated: there is a direct link between global warming and the accumulation of anthropogenic greenhouse gases. The global temperature will therefore increase by far more than two degrees by the end of the century if we do not take action. It is even probable, if not certain, that if we remained indifferent, blind or apathetic, the planet’s temperature would not only increase by three, but rather by four or even more degrees. We are also aware that if global warming unfolds at this pace, there will be climate disasters, endangered biodiversity, rising sea levels, and immense health and food challenges. Some territories are already disappearing. Several countries have alerted us, particularly those we call islands. Both in the Pacific and in the Indian Ocean, they have told us that part of their territory will be engulfed. I would like here to salute the IPCC’s work [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change]– and Jean Jouzel’s presence – that has afforded us an understanding of these facts, including in France.

13 In this country, we think that we are never affected by anything, whether health scourges or natural disasters, because France is a beautiful country. Surely that should protect it from all vices and misfortunes. But even in France, there will be rising temperatures, with their consequences on our coasts, increasingly scarce water resources and changes that could, by the end of the century, result in a part of the population no longer living where their forefathers had decided to settle.

14The second lesson scientists have to offer is more encouraging: it is that we can act. Solutions do exist, and they just need to be sufficiently firmly and responsibly implemented. France and Sweden have taken the lead. Sweden has set national objectives for 2020, some of the most ambitious worldwide – a 50% share for renewable energies – and has already reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 23% over the 1990-2013 period. Sweden has also successfully reconciled environmentalism and growth, since Swedish national production increased by 60% over the same period. This means that Sweden has already reached the objectives that Europe has just set itself, without these measures having affected its growth. It even seems that the latter have stimulated growth.

15France also wishes to take the lead and demonstrate that green growth is possible. We are already one of the industrialized countries, which has the lowest greenhouse gas emissions. We have chosen a “France with new energy”. That is the intention behind the bill tabled by Mrs Ségolène Royal and currently under discussion in Parliament. This “France with new energy” is an environmental choice: it means sending signals to investors and consumers, particularly through carbon costs, to make them aware of the consequences of their decisions. It is a social choice because the victims of the environmental crisis are generally those in the most precarious positions: lack of job security, fuel poverty, poor health, etc. It is also an economic choice, as new industries aim to develop means of energy saving, renewable energies, or simply to invent the materials of the future. Finally, it is a political choice because, like Sweden, France wants to be independent and therefore wishes to reduce fossil fuel sources. At some point this may alter its international political decisions.

Speech by his Majesty the King of Sweden, Carl XVI Gustaf

16It is truly an honour to be launching this symposium on climate and energy.

There is a fundamental need for sustainable development; it has been on the international agenda for a long time. I actually participated in the first United Nations conference on the environment held in Stockholm in 1972.

17Twenty years later, in 1992, the Rio de Janeiro summit took place. It is well known that since then the public’s awareness of climate issues has increased. Thanks to science, we have learnt that climate change is a reality affecting our entire planet. Two or three months ago the IPCC report brought new facts to light, and I think that it is now essential for us to understand the extent to which climate change will affect and have an impact on future generations. We need to find an efficient way of meeting the challenges that we now face. I am nevertheless encouraged by what I see, namely, the solutions that are being developed in many areas to tackle climate change. I am also encouraged by the opportunities that this affords. In France (as in Sweden), it has been proven that emission reductions are possible and compatible with growth and economic development. This is why I think the energy transition towards lower emissions can offer potential in terms of economic growth and job creation, and thereby alleviate poverty and broaden access to universal healthcare. It must be said that the European Union has been a pioneer in this domain. I hope that this will continue, and that we will reach a strong commitment to fight climate change.

18Ladies and Gentlemen, we all need to commit, we all need to work towards a new global climate agreement, to stay well below that two-degree temperature increase in relation to the industrial era. Next year in Paris, we will attend the COP21 under the French presidency. We will discuss the rights, obligations, and needs of our children and grandchildren, who will be a core concern when a new climate agreement is drawn up. Be assured that I will be keeping a very close eye on these developments.


Serge Haroche
Administrator of the Collège de France
Opening address
François Hollande
President of the French Republic
His Majesty the King Carl XVI of Sweden
How to Reconcile the Climate and Prosperity?
Johan Kuylenstierna
Director of the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI)
Session Chair
Ségolène Royal
French Minister of Ecology, Sustainable Development and Energy
Maria van der Hoeven
Executive Director of the International Energy Agency (IEA)
Jean Jouzel
Vice-Chair of Working Group I of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)
Stakeholders in Action
Teresa Ribera
Director of the Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations
Session Chair
Ibrahim Baylan
Swedish Minister for Energy
Karin Wanngård
Mayor of Stockholm
Marie-Christine Coisne
Chief Executive Officer at Sonepar
Leif Johansson
Chairman of Ericsson and AstraZeneca
Towards a New International Agreement
Laurence Tubiana
French Ambassador for Climate Change and Special Representative of the French Minister of Foreign Affairs for the COP21

Haut de page

Table des illustrations

Fichier image/png, 4,7M
Légende Photographs (from left to right) His Majesty the King of Sweden Carl XVI Gustaf, lbrahim Baylan, Serge Haroche, Jean-Marie Lehn, François Weil, John Scheid, François Hollande, Ségolène Royal.
Fichier image/png, 901k
Haut de page

Pour citer cet article

Référence électronique

« Can Europe Rise to the Challenge? », La lettre du Collège de France [En ligne], 9 | 2015, mis en ligne le 25 septembre 2015, consulté le 27 mars 2017. URL :

Haut de page

Droits d’auteur

© Collège de France

Haut de page