Professor Laurence Monnoyeur-Smith offers her thoughts on sustainable development

Up until 2013, Laurence Monnoyer-Smith was an academic professor at UTC-Compiegne, Director of the UTC-Costech Laboratory (an acronym in French for Knowledge, Organization and Technology-intensive systems). In May 2015, she was appointed Head of the French Commissariat General for Sustainable Development, as the Interministerial Delegate for Sustainable Development, functions which lie at the core of the transition in France towards a sustainable economy and associate life-styles changes.

Professor Laurence Monnoyeur-Smith offers her thoughts on sustainable development

What is the remit of the French Commissariat General for Sustainable Development?


It is what we call a transverse directorate reporting to the Minister in charge of the Environment, Energy and Maritime Affairs and was established in 2008, following suit to the conclusions of the wide-ranging “Grenelle on the Environment” Conference convened in France and embodied in law. The Commissariat promotes Government policies (for all Departments concerned) that embody sustainable development questions, hence the qualifier ‘Interministerial’.


What is the role, the influence of research and innovation at your Commissariat General?


They are absolutely essential. The Commissariat has a large, well-staffed Directorate for Research and Innovation (DRI) whose remit is to initiate, encourage and animated research work on themes that related directly with our objectives; biodiversity, climate change, participative practice in relation to the environment, new components designed to trap CO2 on roadways … The RI Directorate also monitors poles of competiveness where we are involved and likewise in basic research programmes about technological breakthroughs in transportation systems and maritime domains (future ships, future aircraft …), so as to ensure their compatibility with France’ national strategic research plan to enforce policy decisions about sustainable development.

However, R&I are not the only flagship concerns for the Commissariat. All the other directorates and services are concerned. Their mission – for many of them and increasingly so – is to produce ideas and new instruments to help embody environmental considerations in public policy decisions. Moreover, we are reorganizing ourselves to be more in phase with the ongoing digital revolution and deep-reaching economic changes appertaining to climate change and also to the depletion of natural resources.


What might these new instruments be?


One of our Services is called ‘The Economy, its Assessment, and Integration of Sustainable Development Policies’ and it, for example, works a lot on the question of a ‘green’ financial base to the economy. With the Directorate for Budget Affairs, it is preparing future government green bonds the revenues of which will be used to finance energy transportation projects. Increasingly, it will become a national economy service focused on the energy transition question, with a special attention being paid to helping enterprise to take climate change implications into account and to shore up their fragility faced with the associate risks.

Another service (in essence a Statistical Observatory), is rapidly changing. As its title indicates, its mission hitherto has been to observe (and produce) statistics (about housing, quality of air, transport conditions and traffic, energy consumption/production …) mainly for the purpose of reporting on their observations, to various European and International bodies. Today this Service is faced with the influence of Big Data handling and consequences. The intention her s to move from observations to statistics and then embodying and enforcing the latter in terms of actions. Making use of and comparing data from the Ministry’s own sources will prove more efficient in public policy-setting; for example, to better prevent natural risks with more efficient forecasting models. But likewise, to offer access to these data to enterprises, aux start-ups and to citizens at large, for the purpose of developing new services that will help us have a control obvert environmental issues and problems as (-and before) they arise. This is a major policy-making target launched by Minister Ségolène Royal in Feb. 2016 under the name Green Tech.


What are the stakes for the Green Tech programme?


The Government’s aim is to stimulate the creation of start-ups in the fields of energy and ecology transitions, notably by making best use of digital tools and in particular, opening access to the data of the French Ministry in charge of the Environment, Energy and Maritime Affairs and in its scientific and engineering networks (Météo France, IGN, Ademe …).

In the springtime 2016, we organized our first two ‘hackathons’ to identify the public services that could be improved by opening access to our data, one devoted to data about energy, the other about data on biodiversity. Two other hackathons will follow, one on prevention of natural risks, the other on urbanism. And we are setting up incubators to accompany start-ups who present projects close to ecological transition concerns: on energy efficiency, preservation of biodiversity, on the circular economy … The first incubator was inaugurated Sept.8, 2016 at the engineering school- ENPC, Ecole nationale des ponts et chaussées, Champs-sur-Marne (Eastern Paris suburbs).

The French Commissariat General for Sustainable Development supports and supervises all these main programmes. Minister Royal launched a special programme for data monitoring which comes among my responsibilities the aim of which is to continue along the path of increasing access to ministerial data. Moreover, we shall be managing both the Green Tech venture and the incubators.


You personally have a background in social sciences and humanities: what role do you see these specialties playing in research conducted or supported by the Commissariat?


At this point in time, they represent rather a minor role, but it is also self-evident that scientific and technological progress alone will not be able to assure an energy transition, nor to ‘decouple’ growth and consumption of natural resources. What will be needed are some fundamental changes in life-styles and, indeed, some serious investigations and thought are needed here. Changing behavioural patterns, stimulating short circuit production/consumption, engaging in a circular economy, seeing how the State authorities can accompany the societal changes - these are some of the questions outstanding. From here on, my personal objective will indeed ne to integrate some social science and humanities input to the projects we monitor and support.