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Erik Orsenna meets the Rhone

In 2017, Erik Orsenna, Chairman of IFGR, stopped over several times on the Rhone to broach different themes decisive for the future of rivers. After having spoken on the subject of rivers and health (Camargue, 1 February), a second conference was held on 4 May at Belley, at the initiative of CNR and the Ain Local Energy and Climate Association (ALEC 01), to exchange views on the issue of rivers in energy transition.

Erik Orsenna on the Upper Rhone

Since it was founded, Initiatives for the Future of Great Rivers has gone out to meet people and actors who for whom rivers play an essential role. Whether they are people who live next to it, companies that generate energy from it, municipalities that develop it, or populations that benefit from its environment, all these actors are at the heart of IFGR’s twofold mission:

  • to promote local dialogue on the river
  • and put forward an international vision of the challenges that have to be faced everywhere in the world in order to protecting these ecosystems.

The conference organised on 4 May by CNR and ALEC 01, with the support of the municipality of Belley, brought together more than 130 representatives of this territory of the Upper Rhone known for the beauty of its river landscapes. Laurent Tonini, CNR’s territorial director, kicked off the conference by recalling CNR’s territorial development missions and activities, and its commitments in favour of the climate on the occasion of the COP21. Marie Alexandre, the director of ALEC 01, also underlined the role of her association in promoting renewable energies, saving water and energy and encouraging local initiatives in favour of transport and responsible consumption.

Erik Orsenna then took the floor to tell of his knowledge and convictions forged through his experience and many journeys to different areas of the world. It was more an invitation to dialogue than a conference, since the itinerary of an author who travels leads to more questions than answers. How can climate change, conflicts linked to demographic growth and the explosion in the need for food and energy all be dealt with at the same time? How can the subsidence of river deltas be stopped while oil companies continue their underground exploration without taking into account its human and environmental impacts? How is it possible to promote the cross border governance of rivers in regions where nation-states above all assert their authority by seizing possession of natural resources?

The truth is that the river is a place of paradox. Water management is tending to become more collective while energy management is becoming more individual in response to the goal of making territories more energy autonomous. The river is a place of life, but it is also a place of death.  Thus E. Orsenna reminded the audience that “we drink 85% of our diseases”, a declaration made by the scientist Louis Pasteur and which still holds in many parts of the world where poverty – and sometimes cultural traditions – drive pollution, illness and the destruction of biodiversity.

The public, mostly composed of elected representatives and members of associations, participated enthusiastically in this dialogue which reflected both local issues and current political affairs. This led to the history of the Rhone’s development, technological innovations and democracy, all proof that the river is an eminently political subject that must urgently be brought to the forefront of concerns of governments and populations.

The next conference-debate with Erik Orsenna will be held on 2 June on the theme “Deltas and humanity”, organised by the Regional Natural park of Camargue in partnership with CNR.




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