Nuclear energy will gradually decrease but will remain at the centre of France’s energy transition for 2030 and 2050, which was presented on Wednesday (30 July). EurActiv France reports.

The French law on energy transition (30 July) is the “most ambitious in all of the European Union,” claimed Ségolène Royal, the French environment minister who presented the package on Wednesday.

The long-awaited law sets targets to increase the proportion of renewable energy to 32% by 2030, reduce CO2 emissions by 40% between 1990 and 2030, and reduce the consumption of fossil fuels by 30% by 2030.

It also outlines targets for 2050, such as reducing energy consumption by half and cutting CO2 emissions fourfold compared to 2012, in line with EU-level targets.

In terms of financing, Ségolène Royal organised a banking conference in June and secured €10 billion over three years to fund the energy transition. But environment protection organisations argue that €10 billion will not be enough (see positions below).

Adopted by the French Council of Ministers on 30 July 2014, the final draft of the energy transition law will be passed on to the French National Assembly and will be scrutinised by a parliamentary committee before it is examined in plenary session on 1 October.

Ambitious targets

Although the French targets for CO2 emissions are the same as those set by the EU Commission, the ambitious targets on renewable energy go above and beyond.

The European Commission's energy and climate package for 2030, presented in January, set out targets to reduce CO2 emissions by 40% compared to 1990 levels and ramp up renewable energies to 27% of the bloc's energy mix. These targets are Europe-wide, not national, and still need to be endorsed by EU leaders at their October summit.

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According to Ségolène Royal, the law will make France “the country of environmental excellence” and give it more weight when national leaders debate the Commission's proposed 2030 targets at the October summit. The discussion promises to be tense considering the diverging views on environmental policy across the 28 member bloc.

The summit discussion will carry an additional political element for France. Paris will host the UN’s 2015 climate conference, when governments from developed and developing countries will try to reach a world agreement to reduce global warming.

“France must be an example,” said the French minister.

Slowly reducing nuclear energy

On the domestic front, the French law confirms a previous commitment by president François Hollande to reduce the share of nuclear in the country's energy mix. Indeed, the proportion of nuclear in electricity consumption is set to decrease from 75% currently to 50% by 2025.

A report by the electricity grid operator RTE, says nuclear energy accounted for 73.3% of French electricity production in 2013, while renewable energy reached 18.6%.

Unlike Germany, which decided to phase out nuclear power in the wake of the Fukushima disaster, French energy production will continue to rely heavily on nuclear.

“France has chosen to go with nuclear,” said Ségolène Royal, adding that it will remain the “linchpin of our energy mix”.

The law fails to specify how the proportion of nuclear energy will be reduced. The shutting down of Fessenheim, France’s oldest nuclear plant, has been announced a number of times. But the decision is not part of the law, which merely caps nuclear production at the current level of 63.2GW.

This means that the French government will have to close power plants if they want to open a European Pressurised Reactor (EPR) – like the one planned for Flamanville in 2016.