French government to step up efforts on climate policy and green economy

In the country of origin of the Paris Agreement, the new government aims to take the assignment of the treaty seriously: a set of policies have been announced to put France at the forefront of climate action and to convert the country into the number one green economy. This greatly contrasts with recent developments in the US, where Trump announced the withdrawal of the US from the Paris Agreement.

Emmanuel Macron won the French presidential elections in May 2017, becoming the youngest President in the history of France. His party “En Marche!” reached the absolute majority in the National Assembly at the legislative elections in June 2017, providing Macron considerable leeway to enact promised reforms. Part of the government of the new Prime Minister Édouard Philippe is Nicolas Hulot as the new Minister of Ecological and Solidary Transition. His administration corresponds to the environmental ministry, but also energy is in the field of Hulot’s responsibility. Hulot is a well-known environmentalist in France and used to be a TV host and journalist. His ministry has recently presented the “Plan Climat”, which lays out the climate policy for the next five years of presidency and beyond. It gives a first indication of where France is heading.

First of all, the plan specifically aims to put France on a trajectory in line with the targets of the Paris Agreement. For this purpose, a new long-term objective is defined: France wants to become carbon neutral by 2050. This represents a significant increase in ambition – the French National Low-Carbon Strategy, which was drafted by the previous government under François Hollande, envisaged a long-term target of cutting GHG emissions by 75 percent, compared to 1990, by 2050.[1] In addition, France wants to seize the opportunities of the ecological transition and become number one of green economies. In order to achieve these goals, several sub-targets are defined in the Plan Climat, including sectorial timelines.

In the energy sector, adequate carbon pricing shall provide for a phase-out of coal-fired power plants by 2022 – one year earlier than envisaged by former president Hollande. Due to the high share of nuclear power, coal represented only three percent of primary energy consumption in 2015. Nevertheless, the transition shall be designed in a socially-compatible way by making “contracts of the ecological transition”. At the same time, the share of renewable energies shall be increased to 32 percent by 2030,[2] while the goal of reducing the share of nuclear power in the electricity mix from currently over 75 percent to 50 percent, set by the previous government, shall be maintained. Moreover, France will stop awarding new licenses for hydrocarbon explorations or renewing existing permits until 2040, in order to end hydrocarbon production on French territories.[3] The government will present a draft law in this consideration in autumn. With respect to energy demand, a road map for the acceleration of the thermal renovation of buildings shall be presented in September 2017, including specific incentive measures. This shall contribute to the long-term goal of eradicating energy poverty over the next ten years.

The Plan Climat includes also two meaningful targets for the transport sector, which provide a clear sense of direction for carmakers. First, the taxation for diesel shall be increased to bring it at the same level with gasoline. Second, the sale of cars emitting GHGs shall be forbidden from 2040 on. Only “clean cars”, such as electric or hydrogen fueled vehicles, shall be allowed for sale. Due to the high share of nuclear power in the French electricity mix, the shift to electric vehicles would indeed contribute significantly to reducing GHG emissions in the transport sector. French carmakers Peugeot, Citroen and Renault are already pioneers in low-carbon performance of their vehicles, according to the European Environmental Agency.[4]

Research and innovation represent a focus area of the Plan Climat, in line with the commitment to double expenditures on clean energy research up to 2020 under Mission Innovation international initiative. Academic exchange shall be promoted, inter alia with the shot to fame platform – which has already received hundreds of applications from scientists. Moreover, Paris shall become the international linchpin for green finance. In this consideration, the Plan Climat underlines the importance of climate-related financial disclosures by investors.

Beyond that, the government intends to draft a roadmap on circular economy by 2018. In the long-term, France shall eventually become a 100 percent circular economy, which would contribute significantly to the reduction of GHG emissions. Besides,  by 2018 a strategy shall be presented on how to stop the import of products contributing to deforestation. In France itself, sustainable forest management and agricultural practices shall contribute to the preservation and enhancement of carbon stocks. Finally, a new climate adaptation plan for the coming five years of presidency shall be introduced by the end of 2017.

With respect to foreign policy, the French government plans to intensify its diplomatic efforts to make the Paris Agreement operational and effective. In this consideration, Macron already announced that he would host a summit on December 12, 2017, to move the Paris climate deal forward, especially on the financial front. Moreover, he repeatedly urged Trump on climate change and succeeded at least in wringing the statement out of him that “something could happen with respect to the Paris accords” during his visit in Paris on July 14.

France’s Plan Climat aims at strengthening climate ambition at the EU level. According to the plan, the EU shall regain its leadership position by broadening and raising the ambition of the EU ETS as well as by presenting a climate neutrality strategy well before 2020. Internationally, France strives to build a coalition of ambitious countries, especially in light of COP24 in 2018. At this conference, the “rulebook” for the Paris Agreement shall be adopted to make the treaty fully functional. In addition, the “facilitative dialogue” shall take place at COP24, representing the first stocktake of global efforts to tackle climate change under the Paris deal. Further, the Plan Climat reaffirms French support for developing countries and respective initiatives, especially in Africa.

Overall, the Plan Climat represents a significant increase in ambition when considering the new goal of carbon neutrality in 2050 and the several additional sub-targets. The new French government seems to put a strong emphasis on climate policy. Nonetheless, the plan has faced some criticism. For instance, Greenpeace generally lamented that the correct analyses made for the Plan Climat were not followed by adequate conclusions. For instance, NGOs complained that the ban of gasoline and diesel cars is scheduled too late, when considering the average lifetime of cars of about 15 years. Additionally, they pointed out a lack of detail on how the targets are to be achieved. Indeed, the Plan Climat sets a schedule of specific legislation and sectorial plans that will start following from this autumn on. Therefore, the President and the government still have to walk the talk.




[1] Former president François Hollande also emphasised the need to become carbon neutral by 2050, but this objective was not incorporated into any official policy document.

[2] The Plan Climat itself does not specify to which unity this percentage relates (e.g. electricity mix or energy mix). The Law on Energy Transition for Green Growth of the preceding government of 2015 included the goal of 32 percent renewables in energy consumption by 2030 (with 40 percent of electricity, 38 percent of heat consumption and 15 percent in transportation). It suggests itself that the target of the Plan Climat is identical with the one in the Energy Transition Law. In 2015, renewable energies contributed around 15 percent to the French primary energy consumption.

[3] Thus, the law does not affect ongoing explorations, including 132 permits waiting for approval, according to France24. Currently, there are 64 active oil and gas fields exploited on French territories, which satisfy only one percent of domestic demand.

[4] In 2015, they ranked first, second and third of European car manufacturers considering the carbon emissions of their vehicles. In addition, Renault-Nissan possessed an almost 15 percent share in the EU of battery-powered vehicles, as The Guardian reports. Nevertheless, in the first half of 2017, diesel and gasoline cars still far dominated car sales in France with a share of more than 95 percent, according to Reuters.


(Image: Paris, 2013. Source: Miroslav Petrasko/Flickr)