France ahead of targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions

France released about 418 million tons of greenhouse gases in carbon dioxide equivalent (MtCO2e) into the atmosphere in 2021 without taking removal systems into account, a decrease of 3.9% from 2019. [EPA-EFE / Ida Guldbaek Arentsen]

A French centre on air pollution recently published its latest estimates on France’s greenhouse gas emissions, and the Ministry of Energy Transition is pleased with it: -9.6% between 2017 and 2021.

Read the original French article here.

The Centre interprofessional technique d’études de la pollution atmosphérique (Interprofessional Technical Centre for Studies on Air Pollution, CITEPA) estimates that France released about 418 million tons of greenhouse gases in carbon dioxide equivalent (MtCO2e) into the atmosphere in 2021 without taking removal systems – land use, land-use change, and forestry (LULUCF, a system providing negative emissions by absorption of greenhouse gases) – into account, a decrease of 3.9% from 2019.

However, this is significantly more than in 2020 (393 MtCO2e), where lower emissions were observed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and repeated lockdowns.

In 2021, the economic recovery has accelerated a return to emissions in line with the progressive reduction in CO2 emissions targets set by the French government in its National Low-Carbon Strategy (SNBC).

With 418 MtCO2e in 2021, France is still 1.2% ahead of the targets it set in its SNBC (423 MtCO2e).

Despite an increase between 2020 and 2021, the government’s action “is bearing fruit”, the Minister of Energy Transition, Agnès Pannier-Runacher, wrote on Twitter.

French elections: Environment minister loses seat, position in government

Amélie de Montchalin, France’s minister for ecological transition and territorial cohesion since 20 May 2022, was defeated in the parliamentary elections on Sunday (19 June) by a candidate of the new left-wing alliance NUPES, which means she will probably leave the government.

28% decrease between 1990 and 2020

The total decrease in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions was 28% between 1990 (544 MtCO2e) and 2020, with a significant reduction of 14.2% between 2015 and 2020.

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is setting the trend, accounting for up to 75% of all emissions, with a 27% decrease between 1990 and 2020. At the same time, over the same period, methane (CH4) emissions dropped by more than 21%.

However, hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) – fluorinated gases (F-gases) used as heat transfer fluids in air conditioning and heating systems – have increased by 167% over this same period.

According to the 5th IPCC report published in 2014, such F-gases have a global warming potential (GWP) 12,400 times higher than CO2. This means that for the same amount of release, some HFCs emit 12,400 times more GHG than CO2, which has a GWP of 1.

Between 2015 and 2020, HFC releases decreased by 32.4%.

According to the same IPCC report, sulfur hexafluoride (SF6), also a fluorinated gas, has a GWP of 23,500, but unlike HFCs, its use has declined by 84% between 1990 and 2020.

The transport sector is the biggest polluter

The transport sector was the leading polluter in France in 2021, accounting for more than 29% of all emissions. Agriculture came a close second, with 19%.

The energy industry accounts for 10% of emissions, half of which comes from energy production and 15% from oil refining. This relatively small share can be partly explained by the fact that France’s electricity mix produces fewer GHG emissions due to the use of low-carbon energy sources such as nuclear power.

However, Greens MEP Karima Delli said this is no time to praise the French strategy as “the dramatic scenario is the choice of this government”. On Twitter, she added that “France is the 2nd largest CO2 emitter in Europe” and is reducing its emissions “three times slower than the European average”.

There has been a 31% decrease in the EU’s emissions between 1990 and 2020, according to the European Environment Agency – better than the initial target, which was for a 20% drop.

Is Germany a better example than France?

Germany, the EU’s largest emitter, saw a drop of emissions by 38.7% between 1990 and 2021, according to the German Environmental Agency (Umweltbundesamt).

However, Germany is coming from further behind, since its emissions were 762 MtCO2e in 2021 – 1.8 times higher than those of France. This is because Germany has a more carbon-intensive energy mix and a larger population of roughly 84 million people.

Moreover, even at this rate, Germany will not be able to meet its target of reducing GHG emissions by 65% by 2030, allowing it to become carbon neutral by 2045. Currently, the German Federal Court of Auditors estimates a 49% reduction.

The new Scholz government has therefore decided to accelerate the deployment of renewable energies to meet these objectives, with an 80% share of renewable energies in gross electricity consumption by 2030, compared to 65% previously.

But for the time being, German concerns lie elsewhere. The country is currently reviving the use of coal to offset the demand for gas, the stocks of which are crucial for the coming winter.

Berlin to launch 'painful' gas saving scheme to secure next winter’s supply

Faced with low gas flows from Russia, the German government will burn more coal in summer, pay industry not to use gas and provide billions of euros in loans to merchants for gas purchasing.

Following the path of the SNBC?

Conversely, France is on track to meet the targets it set in its SNBC, a roadmap mapping out the structural directions toward a low-carbon economy.

First adopted in 2015, in 2018-2019 the roadmap was revised, to critical reception from ecologists claiming it lowers the bar.

The SNBC-2 now allows for a more gradual reduction of GHG emissions, aiming for carbon neutrality in 2050.

This means “we are more on track,” the head of energy transition at Climate Action Network (CAN) Zélie Victor told EURACTIV.

According to her, when carbon absorption systems (LULUCF) are taken into account, the target of the SNBC is no longer followed.

Taking LUCLUF into account, France’s 2023 emissions target sits at 383 MtCO2e. However, for the year 2022 – when LULUCF is factored in – France’s current emissions still stand a way away, at 404 MtCO2e. The rate of reduction of GHG emissions is thus insufficient, Victor said.

The SNBC version 3, which will be ratified next year, must “show a stronger acceleration” of France’s objectives, in a “context where we will have to increase them in relation to European objectives,” Victor emphasised.

[Edited by Frédéric Simon/Alice Taylor/Nathalie Weatherald]

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