Saturday, January 1, 2022

France: french government is lagging behind EU climate goals

 As France is taking over the presidency of the Council of the EU on january 1st 2022 its climate performances is scrutinized, writes WELT:

Even in normal times France is decisive for the fortunes of the European Union. From January 1st, the country and President Emmanuel Macron will become even more important. Then France will take over the rotating EU Council Presidency, i.e. political leadership and coordination of the 27 member states.

For six months, Paris will play a central role in coordinating negotiations among the member states, formulating strategies and negotiating compromises. It's an important function; The ability of the Council Presidency to determine whether and how legislative proposals progress at European level is crucial.

A lot is expected of politically weighty countries like France during their Council presidencies - not least because they have large civil servants that are necessary to advance the often complex issues.

During its presidency in the second half of 2020, Germany had a whole series of important and controversial topics wrapped up: the Corona reconstruction fund, the EU budget until 2027 and, at the last minute, an investment agreement with China, which has been on hold since then.

In the six months of the French presidency, there is a similarly controversial topic: the negotiations on the huge “Fit for 55” climate package. The more than a dozen laws are intended to make the EU's climate goals a reality: the EU wants to operate in a climate-neutral manner by 2050, and by 2030 it wants to emit 55 percent fewer greenhouse gases than in 1990 - the international reference year.

It is a mammoth task, also for the French Presidency, which has announced that it will make decisive progress with the legislative proposals. Because the EU member states are less unanimous on the subject than the common climate goals suggest.

Governments in Central and Eastern Europe in particular are resisting excessively strict climate regulations and the expansion of emissions trading to include car traffic and real estate. The current high energy prices are not making the negotiations any easier and are creating resistance to stricter climate rules, especially in southern Europe.

So the challenge is great, but France could be the wrong one to make decisive progress in implementing the climate policy ambitions in Brussels. Because the country is setting a bad example. France's own climate ambitions lag far behind those of the EU.

The Assemblée Nationale, the French parliament, only passed a climate law six months ago. The "Law to Combat Climate Change and Strengthen Resilience to Its Effects" has been in force since August 24, 2021.

However, it only provides for France to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent by 2030. That still corresponds to the old EU requirements and is far from the 55 percent that Brussels is now striving for and on which all EU member states have jointly agreed.

The corresponding EU regulation came into force in July, so that the French law was already outdated when it was passed. "The measures to which France is committed are already lagging behind the discussions at EU level," criticized Marion Jousseaume, an analyst at the Center de Politique Européenne think tank in Paris.

"The measures in the French climate and resilience law can at best ensure that France reaches its current reduction target of 40 percent, but they are completely insufficient to contribute to the new EU climate target for 2030," says the expert. "France should bring its national policy in line with its own rhetoric at the international and EU level."

For comparison: a week before the French climate law came into force, one also came into force in Germany. The French reduction targets pale before its ambitions: According to them, greenhouse gas emissions in Germany are to fall by at least 65 percent by 2030 and thus even more than agreed at EU level. Climate pioneer Denmark wants to reduce its emissions by as much as 70 percent by 2030.

It is astonishing that France is lagging behind the EU ambitions, because the country has ideal starting conditions for electricity production on the way to climate neutrality: France is the second largest producer of low-CO2 nuclear energy in the world after the USA. 56 reactors work around the clock at 18 locations in the country.

Around 67 percent of French electricity in 2020 came from low-carbon nuclear power and only nine percent from fossil fuels. On the other hand, the picture in Germany is completely different: 44 percent of electricity there was still generated by burning fossil fuels coal and gas. After all, a similar amount came from renewable energies such as sun, wind or biomass.

Whether France will accelerate or rather slow down climate protection at the European level in the coming months; that will only be assessed afterwards. The chances are, however, not good: France has recently been one of the brakes on the EU level.

The months-long protests by the yellow vests two and a half years ago ensured that Macron is cautious when it comes to climate protection. He doesn't have much time anyway: France will hold its presidential elections in mid-April. Observers already expect Macron to want to keep critical EU issues such as higher climate costs for motorists out of the election campaign.

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