The Alpine glacier has been a tourist draw since the 19th century, but over the course of the 20th century it lost an average thickness of 50 metres
By Johnny Cotton and Noemie Olive
CHAMONIX, France, Feb 13 (Reuters) - French President Emmanuel Macron said on Thursday the melting of Mont Blanc's main glacier is irrefutable proof of global warming, as he sought to burnish his environmentalist credentials ahead of municipal elections next month.
During a visit to the "Mer de Glace" (sea of ice) - France's largest glacier which has shrunk dramatically in recent years - Macron met scientists and announced new protective measures for the area, including higher fines for littering.
"What we are seeing with the evolution of the glacier is irrefutable proof of global warming and climate change and the toppling of an entire ecosystem," Macron said in a speech after going up the glacier.
The Alpine glacier above the mountain town of Chamonix has been a tourist draw since the 19th century, but over the course of the 20th century it lost an average thickness of 50 metres (164 ft). The shrinking has sped up in the past two decades.
"A landscape is being deformed before our eyes and species are disappearing quickly. The fight for biodiversity is a fight for our own survival and is inseparable from the fight against global warming," Macron said.
Macron launched a new national biodiversity agency and gave an overview of his government's environmental achievements, including scrapping disputed airport, mining and shopping mall projects. He also listed several international summits in 2020 where he said France would try to convince other nations to join its fight against global warming.
Critics say that following the success of France's green party at the 2019 European Union election and with municipal elections due in March, the Chamonix visit and other ecology-themed actions are an attempt at courting the green vote.
"We'd prefer that he'd be in his office working on ending subsidies for the fossil fuel industries and tax breaks for trucking rather than doing electoral tourism on the Mont Blanc," Greenpeace France climate campaigner Clement Senechal said.
French weekly Le Point said the launch of the biodiversity agency is largely symbolic and that the upcoming municipal elections seem to be a bigger priority for Macron than taking action on climate change.
Lawmakers for Macron's centrist party have said that at a meeting with Macron earlier this week the president had told them that ecology would be a key pillar for his policies in the second half of his five-year mandate, which ends in May 2022.
On Friday, on the sidelines of a visit to Munich, Macron will meet leaders of Germany's Green party. (Reporting by Johnny Cotton and Noemie Olive; Writing by Geert De Clercq, Editing by William Maclean)
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