France is a ‘good student with bad results’ when it comes to climate policy

"If the social issue is not included in the investment plan being discussed by the new Commission, it will not work," said the head of the French Confederation of Labour and trade unionist, Laurent Berger. 

France’s independent advisory council on climate has highlighted the relevance of the country’s carbon neutrality objective but considered it far from being a concrete reality as carbon emissions continue to be on the rise. EURACTIV France reports.

While President Emmanuel Macron was banging his fist on the table at the G20 summit in Japan on Wednesday (26 June), stating that France would not sign the G20 conclusions without a strong climate message, France’s independent advisory council on climate confirmed that France is not ‘walking the talk’.

In its first annual report, the independent body highlighted France’s insufficient efforts in reducing greenhouse gas emissions in relation to international commitments and called on Paris to radically change its climate policy.

France’s contradictory climate ambitions

While French President Emmanuel Macron fights the corner of climate diplomacy, actions carried out by the French government led by Edouard Philippe mainly defend industrial interests. EURACTIV.fr reports.

“The current pace of economic transformation is insufficient because transition, efficiency and energy saving policies are not at the heart of public action,” the report stated.

The independent advisory council on climate also made a series of recommendations so that France gets back on track in achieving its carbon neutral objective by 2050.

However, the French law and the French economy, as they currently stand, are not set up to ensure such a transition that politicians are calling for.

France exceeded its first official carbon budget for 2015-2018, despite a limited low-carbon strategy.

As the strategy is not binding, it is simply not being implemented. France is reducing its emissions at a rate of -1.1% per year and not at the planned -1.9%.

The independent advisory council on climate, therefore, recommended a number of concrete measures to be included in the law to avoid that such slippages become permanent.

Campaigners denounce France's 'double-speak' on climate

Major long-term climate ambitions proposed in Brussels contrast with the French government’s constant back-pedalling at the domestic level. This is demonstrated by the current debate surrounding France’s energy and climate bill. EURACTIV France reports.

A good student with a poor work ethic

In essence, France is one of the good students, as the independent council pointed out.

Of the ten countries that have announced their carbon neutrality objectives for 2050, France is one of the few that plans to totally ban the use of international carbon credits, whose credibility is often questionable. France’s target also covers all greenhouse gases, while New Zealand, for example, has excluded methane emitted by animals.

Norway, for its part, allows the use of international credits but aims for carbon neutrality by 2030.

However, many elements still need to be specified in France’s new energy and climate bill, set to be adopted by the national assembly this year. This includes issues regarding the downward revision of the 2019-2023 carbon budget, the inclusion of international transport emissions, imported products…

The French have seen their carbon footprint increase by 20% between 1995 and 2015 because of a greater reliance on imports. Imported emissions represent 11 tonnes of CO2 per capita, compared to 6.6 tonnes for domestic emissions.

The independent body also recommended that priority be given to energy precariousness, the real inequalities between the French territories, and the efforts made by companies in their energy transition.

The return of the carbon tax

Public policy is therefore key in changing the current situation. This includes non-climate laws, for example, which are directly related to climate.

This is the case with France’s mobility bill. While 19% of French emissions come from transport, CO2 is barely mentioned in the current bill.

The independent advisory council on climate also proposed to re-evaluate the various climate policies, including those related to environmental taxes or the emissions trading schemes.

It proposed to look towards the sectors that have remained carbon-free, such as the energy sector, which is subject to the emissions trading scheme, agriculture and carbon sinks.

It also proposed to clarify concrete policies. For example, France’s national forest and woods programme foresees greater use of forests, while the 2050 objective would actually require forests to be used as carbon sinks. The two objectives are not compatible.

Finally, the independent body advocated working seriously on the issue of the carbon tax,  which it considers a “powerful economic tool”.

However, the independent advisory council on climate noted that the “the support of companies is essential for the tax to be maintained and increased in the long-term,” which would require an explanation, a review of the transparency conditions and of the use of revenues.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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