France’s ‘imported emissions’ are 70% higher than domestic CO2 output, report finds

In 2017, 69% of France's imported emissions came from the EU and Asia with imports from Germany leading the way with 17.5% and those from China reaching 6.5%, for example. EPA-EFE/WALLACE WOON [EPA-EFE/WALLACE WOON]

To fall in line with the Paris Agreement and limit global warming to 1.5°C, France’s imported emissions should fall by 65% by 2050, according to the latest report by the country’s High Climate Council published on Tuesday (6 October). EURACTIV France reports.

France’s total carbon footprint – including imported products – is about 70% higher than its national emissions. In 2018, it amounted to 749 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent compared with 445 Mt CO2e emitted nationally, according to France’s High Climate Council report commissioned by the government and published on 6 October.

And if the country’s total carbon footprint has been declining since 2005, it is “only due” to the reduction of national emissions, the authors note.

“Imported emissions must be reduced,” the independent body warned, saying this would ensure “France cannot be perceived as reducing its domestic emissions through increased imports – by placing the burden of mitigation on its trading partners”.

To be consistent with the 1.5°C global warming target of the Paris Agreement, the country’s imported greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions would have to be reduced by 65% by 2050 compared to 2005, the report says.

The challenge is a major one, since imported emissions have been rising steadily since 1995, unlike exported emissions, which are relatively stable and are already covered by national carbon budgets. In 2018, France had 3.2% more imports than exports, compared to 1.1% in 1990, an upward trend due mainly to increased consumption.

“We are consuming much more every year, and a large part of these products are manufactured abroad,” explained Corinne Le Quéré, a Franco-Canadian climatologist who is President of the High Climate Council.

In 2017, 69% of France’s imported emissions came mostly from the EU and Asia. Imports from Germany led the way with a share of 17.5% while those from China reached 6.5%, for example.

However, only about a quarter of these imports come from a region that is moving towards carbon neutrality or is preparing to do so, the report’s authors point out. In addition, international transport emissions (air and maritime) also contribute to France’s carbon footprint and should be accounted for, the report says.

According to the High Climate Council, transport emissions are also France’s responsibility and should be included both in its carbon neutrality objective for 2050, and in its carbon budget, even though these have been relatively stable since 2010, the French institution said, repeating a recommendation already made in its 2019 annual report.

What about the carbon border tax?

According Corinne Le Quéré, the European Commission’s carbon border tax project cannot be the only response to mitigating the impact of these imported CO2 emissions.

“The carbon border tax is a trade policy that aims to protect companies in their efforts to decarbonise. It is not in itself a decarbonisation policy. But it could have an effect on emissions, an effect that will however depend very much on the sectors that will be targeted,” said Le Quéré.

“The adjustment of carbon at the borders is not enough to reduce emissions from imports. It must be accompanied by specific policies and we suggest, in particular, that companies be supported in France,” she added.

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France’s High Climate Council, established in late 2018 by French President Emmanuel Macron, has issued several recommendations to the government in each of its publications.

These include adapting France’s industrial strategies to limit imported emissions associated with supply chains and increasing the sustainability of products, as well as clarifying the implications of the so-called “Pacte law”, which requires companies to take into account environmental issues relating to their value chains and their imported emissions. The body also proposed to strengthen existing mechanisms with sanctions, for example.

“The carbon price of products is currently quite low compared to all the other costs that are taken into account within companies,” said Le Quéré.

“Historically, companies fleeing France is not mainly caused by the price of carbon but by much more complex factors, external to the carbon policy,” she said, concluding that “it is possible to have industrial decarbonisation strategies.”

According to Le Quéré, “the carbon border adjustment mechanism would reduce the risk of relocation, but it is not necessary to decarbonise companies, since many of them have already started their decarbonisation policies without this tax.”

A carbon footprint included in the next climate targets

France’s energy-climate law adopted in November 2019 provides an indicative carbon ceiling from 2022 onwards, which will have to be included in the country’s next National Low Carbon Strategy (NLCS), along with its national carbon budgets.

If France were to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, it would be reducing its carbon footprint by 80%, which according to the country’s High Climate Council would be a realistic target.

“More than three-quarters of France’s carbon footprint is linked to decisions made by French economic actors, whether they are French companies (through their procurement choices) or households (through their direct emissions and consumption choices),” the report states.

According to the climate council, this share is also relatively homogeneous between the different goods and services – with rare exceptions, such as for metallurgy or refining products, for example – and increases even more if the decisions of the EU’s economic players are also taken into account.

The report goes on to say that “French and European regulatory frameworks, through their influence on private decisions, can influence imported emissions.”

'We can do it!': EU chief announces 55% emissions reduction target for 2030

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced plans on Wednesday (16 September) to target a 55% cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 as part of a broader European Green Deal programme aimed at reaching “climate neutrality” by mid-century.

(Edited by Frédéric Simon)

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