I wanted to write a note on the new French climate policy since the election of a new president in May. How not to make the link between the new ruling coalition (gathering socialists and greens in France) and the victory of Helle Thorning-Schmidt in the Danish election last year? One will recall that one of her first measures as prime minister had been to raise the Danish emissions reduction target to -40% by 2020.
Serge Lepeltier, the French ambassador for climate change, tempered a little my expectations when we met last May at the Bonn climate talks. He warned me that “one should not expect a revision of the French position in the climate negotiations”. I must admit that I had some troubles understanding how a change of government and the arrival of the greens in a governmental coalition could not be translated in some changes in the position of my country in these key negotiations.
Over the past months, François Hollande did stick to his commitment to manage the country “normally” and the summer passed without any major announcement of the government that could provide the opportunity for the enthusiastic post that I was hoping to write. After a good speech addressing the Rio+20 conference in June, the president sent however mixed signals about his stand on environmental issues by dismissing his environmental minister due the pressure of lobbies. It is thus with a lot of expectations and some growing impatience that I was waiting for the multi-stakeholders “Environmental Conference” to open today in Paris with the first presidential declaration dedicated entirely to environmental issues.
As he detailed a long list of priorities and measures covering very diverse issues – from a decision to close down the eldest nuclear power plant of the country to the establishment of a national agency for biodiversity – the president did make several announcements regarding his climate policy for the five coming years. “France is ready to host the UN Climate Conference in 2015” president Hollande announced rather expectedly. The country is thus set to come back to the front stage of climate diplomacy. The 2015 climate conference is indeed expected to be particularly important, as it should conclude the negotiations on a new climate protocol. In addition, a new “environmental diplomacy” was also promised for the coming years.
The presidential statement then addressed the key elements of the new national climate policy: weatherizing of one million of housing each year, moratorium on shale gas explorations in the country… At the European level, the president proposed a new EU energy policy as well as a carbon border tax, and committed to support efforts to better regulate the carbon markets.
Unfortunately, the new commitments listed by the French president fell short of addressing a crucial element of the EU policy: the need for the Union to review and increase its mitigation target for 2020. While most voices in Europe are demanding more ambition when it comes to short-term emissions reduction (not only among civil society but also including many businesses anxious for a clearer political vision), François Hollande did not even mention this issue. It is however difficult to see a more appropriate focus for the new French “green diplomacy” as the country played a key role in the 2008 negotiations during which the current target was set. A stronger involvement of France in climate negotiations is surely most welcome, but it is doubtful whether the priority right now should be on deciding three years ahead the address of the climate conference. One could instead suggest that the president joins urgently the efforts of Chancellor Merkel to convince their Polish colleague that the EU cannot afford a “business as usual” approach to its climate policy.
A hopeful note however… At the international level, France is usually at its best when it plays at home. The whole country still remembers with pride the outstanding performance delivered by the national team during the 1998 Football World Cup hosted in the country. Let us now hope that the government and their negotiators will now be as inspired with the perspective of a French Climate Conference looming in the horizon.
Come back in a few days! Next week, another post will suggest a concrete opportunity for France to inspire others in the quest for “innovative sources” of climate finance…
Image: Robert Doisneau
About the authorSébastien Duyck
Passionate environmental advocate, PhD student (Human Rights and Environmental Governance). Following particularly UNFCCC, UNEP and Rio+20 processes