Major long-term climate ambitions proposed in Brussels contrast with the French government’s back-pedalling at domestic level. This is demonstrated by the current debate surrounding France’s energy and climate bill. EURACTIV France reports.
France’s draft energy and climate bill, which is being examined by the National Assembly’s Economic Affairs Committee this week, appears less striking in terms of ambition than on the opt-outs it features.
“France constantly adopts this double-speak,” said Anne Bringault from Climate Action Network, a green campaign group.
“On the one hand, it is pushing for more ambitious long-term objectives in Brussels. However, in the shorter term, France has an issue with implementation because it has the habit of setting targets without meeting them,” she told EURACTIV.fr.
This is the case for France’s target on renewables, which is expected to reach 23% of France’s energy consumption by 2020, in six months time. However, the current share of renewables stands at 16.3%. Similarly, in 2016 and 2017, the annual carbon budget set by the multiannual energy programming saw a slight surplus.
In this context, France’s objective of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050, which translates into a sixfold reduction in carbon emission, is less impressive than it may look at first glance.
That is because, in substance, the message is confusing: The French government is also proposing to reduce fossil fuel consumption by 40% by 2030, without proposing concrete measures to achieve this.
Currently, the wording of the draft law’s third paragraph, which concerns the last four active coal-fired power plants between now and 2022, is unclear: it proposes that the French environmental authority caps the production of power plants that emit carbon emissions exceeding 0.550 tonnes per MWh, which applies to coal and oil-fired power plants.
This means that these power plants will not be closed, which contradicts Macron’s promises on coal. The production of these power plants will only be gradually limited.
One idea could be to mix coal and biomass at one of the sites in Cordemais in Loire-Atlantique.
“Knowing that the buyer of two of these power plants, the Czech Kretinski, has made it a speciality to extend the life of the coal-fired power plants he takes over, one can wonder about the firmness of this commitment,” noted Cécile Marchand, from the French branch of Friends of the Earth, a network of environmental organisations.
Reversal on nuclear power
On nuclear, the draft law reverses the bill adopted under former president François Hollande, which planned to reduce the share of nuclear power to 50% of energy consumption by 2025. The deadline has now been extended to 2035.
“We have proposed a credible path to reducing the share of nuclear power to 50% by 2035, with the massive development of renewables and in particular offshore wind power,” explained Prime Minister Édouard Philippe in his general policy statement to the National Assembly on Wednesday (12 June).
The timetable involves extending the lifespan of these power plants, which have already run their course, and will have reached an average age of nearly 50 years by 2035, although they are expected to last an average of only 40 years.
For the French anti-nuclear federation Sortir du nucléaire, this decision only “validates inaction.”
“We would like to draw your attention to the consequences of this trajectory, both in terms of democracy, energy and safety policy,” the federation stated in a letter to French MPs. The federation also highlighted the risk of these plants becoming obsolete and launched a petition to prevent the draft law from being adopted.
Another problem is the issue of a carbon tax, the rate of which was frozen at the end of 2018 following demands made by the ‘gilets jaunes’.
In the shorter term, France does not actively support increased EU commitments under the Paris Climate Agreement, even if this could set an example for other signatories.