France failing to tackle climate emergency, report says
France is falling behind on tackling the climate emergency despite ambitious promises to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, a new report has found, saying Paris is worryingly far from delivering its goals.
The stark warning from France’s independent advisory council on climate comes at a key moment, as the eurozone’s second-biggest economy attempts to present itself as a world leader on the climate emergency.
The centrist president, Emmanuel Macron, who sought to counter Donald Trump by promising to “make our planet great again”, has tried to encourage other European nations to aim for neutral carbon dioxide emissions across the EU by 2050.
Opinion polls have showed the climate emergency is a growing priority for French voters, who increased the Green party’s score in European elections last month.
But the report handed to the prime minister, Édouard Philippe, on Tuesday night suggests that everyday life in France does not match the political promises. France needs to seriously strengthen its climate policies – particularly on transport, car use and building renovation – if it is to meet its commitments under the Paris climate agreement, the experts said.
Crucially the report comes just as its authors described “a new era in the long-running rivalry between France and Britain: who will decarbonise the fastest”.
The UK government announced this month that it had committed to a net zero emissions target for 2050, making Britain the first major economy to do so – with one of the most ambitious goals set by a leading polluting nation. In parallel, the French government is working on a draft energy and climate bill with the same target for 2050. France and the UK are the largest countries so far to set such an ambitious objective in legislation.
France gets about 75% of its electricity from nuclear energy, which past governments argued meant lower carbon dioxide emissions than neighbours using coal. The government has pledged to reduce the nuclear energy share to 50% in 2035.
But the report points to the ways in which the French government must work far harder to prepare the country for change.
Carbon dioxide emission reduction has not been happening fast enough in France, the report found. France’s first official objective, the 2015-18 carbon budget, was not met. During this period, annual emissions decreased by only 1.1%, much less than planned. The rate of decrease needs to triple by 2025 to catch up on the objectives, the authors said.
The key culprit in this “gap between ambition and reality” was transport: emissions have not seen a real decrease in the last 10 years, including from cars and lorries. “There is not enough modernisation of transport, or if there is, it’s going towards private cars and not public transport,” said Corinne Le Quéré, chair of the advisory body that drew up the report.
Another problem is emissions from buildings, which have decreased three times more slowly than anticipated. Building renovation had not been effective enough.
“France’s commitments are ambitious, but at the current rate, they are unlikely to be met,” Le Quéré said. “As long as actions to cut carbon emissions remain at the margins of public policies, France does not stand a chance of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050.”
She said it wasn’t enough to leave the climate crisis to an environment ministry. “It must be a national priority, central policy in all of government,” she said.
Macron faced a crisis in climate policy late last year when the anti-government gilets jaunes (yellow vests) protesters took to the streets against a new carbon tax intended to urge motorists to change their behaviour. People in the countryside said it was deeply unfair to hike taxes on fuel use where there was no alternative transport to private cars. The tax was later abandoned.
Le Quéré said lessons must be learned from the crisis and policies aimed at shrinking emissions should be fair and seen as fair, without increasing inequalities in different geographic areas.
The report said that carbon budgets should be more ambitious and set in law. The carbon neutrality objective should include international transport, from aviation to shipping, and a strategy to reduce the country’s global carbon footprint, which includes emissions from goods manufactured in other countries for consumption in France.
Last year, Macron’s high-profile environment minister, Nicolas Hulot, quit saying the government was taking only “mini steps” that were insufficient to deal with climate change.