En marche towards a greener France


France has one of the lowest carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions per capita among International Energy Agency (IEA) member countries (ranking fifth). It accounts for 1.2% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions but for 4.2% of global gross domestic product (GDP).

In the last years the French government has set in motion significant reforms towards more secure, affordable and sustainable energy supplies and the green growth of its economy. France has witnessed the full decoupling of its energy consumption and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from economic and population growth. Total energy supply and consumption as well as CO2 emissions from fuel combustion have declined sharply over the past decade. The carbon intensity of the French economy is half the IEA average and has decreased by almost 30% below its level in 2004 (versus an IEA average decline of -20% during the same period). Outside transport, CO2 emissions from fuel combustion have been falling fast. Since 2012, 3.3 gigawatts (GW) of coal-fired capacity was closed, and the remaining oil-fired power plants are planned to be phased out. Energy savings in residential and industrial demand and reduced fossil fuel combustion have contributed to reduce energy supply and consumption in France.

France is one of the leading IEA countries when it comes to a low-carbon energy mix: only 47% of energy came from fossil fuels in 2015, thanks to the large share of nuclear energy, which made up 46% in the energy mix and 78% of electricity generation, the highest share worldwide.

In August 2015, France adopted a long-term framework for the energy transition up to 2030 and 2050. The Energy Transition for Green Growth Act (Loi relative à la transition énergétique pour la croissance verte, LTECV) is the result of the National Debate on the Energy Transition (DNTE), an intensive stakeholder consultation that ran from January to July 2013. The new legal framework has binding targets and a carbon price trajectory up to 2030 and has put in place a governance framework based on the National Low-carbon Development Strategy (Stratégie nationale bas carbone, SNBC), five-year carbon budgets and a pluriannual energy programming (Programmation pluriannuelle de l’énergie, PPE) which covers energy production, energy efficiency, security of supply, and the supply/demand balance for all energy sources. These pillars can ensure periodical review and flexibility over time to adjust the trajectory and align policies to the targets of the Act. This framework is an excellent achievement, and other countries can learn from France’s experience.

To drive long-term decarbonisation of the economy and reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 40% to 2030, the Energy Transition for Green Growth Act acknowledges the need to accelerate actions in transport, industry and buildings, while maintaining a clean electricity mix. Sectoral strategies have been adopted: a low-carbon mobility strategy was presented in July 2016, with measures that build on France’s lead in the deployment of electric vehicles (EV) with 7 million EV charging points planned for 2030. In the buildings sector, the government aims to renovate 500 000 dwellings per year and targets the renovation of low-income households under the Better Living Programme. Building codes have been strengthened with the new thermal renovation regulations of 2012.

As the cornerstone of the transition, the role of renewable energy in the power mix is to be increased to 40% by 2030 (from its current share of 16.5%), and France aims to accelerate energy savings while preparing for the future, given its ageing nuclear fleet. The government set the ambitious target of reducing the share of nuclear from 78% in 2015 to 50% by 2025.

France has witnessed growing shares of renewables, reaching 15% in total final consumption (TFC) in 2014. However, it is not yet on track towards achieving its target of 23% by 2020. The required growth in the next years will need to be twice that of the rates achieved over the last nine years. Targets have been reached for solar photovoltaics and biomass, which alone account for more than 36% of the growth of the renewable energy share since 2005, but there is a gap to be filled for hydro, wind power and heat. Onshore wind has reached about 10 GW, but offshore wind deployment has not started yet despite ambitious plans. Delays in the development of wind energy are the result of non-economic barriers rather than economic ones, including the overlapping administrative and judiciary procedures for clearing a permit of any claim (seven years on average for wind mills), coupled with a lack of social acceptance for wind and biomass. The Energy Transition for Green Growth Act introduced the single permit, which should improve permitting for onshore/offshore wind parks and reform the tax base for the funding of the new feed-in premium/feed-in tariff regime. However, further work is needed with regard to the siting and grid connection of offshore wind and, in the long term, grid integration of variable renewable energy.

The new President is likely to continue the previous government’s cautious shift away from France’s reliance on old nuclear reactors and diesel, towards a more and more green and sustainable France.

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