On Wednesday, France, host to the major United Nations conference on climate change at the end of the year, passed a law that both re-envisions the country’s energy system and sets an impressive precedent for the leadership potential France could offer come December.
The long-anticipated law will halve the country’s energy consumption by 2050, cut nuclear power production by a third by 2025 (from 75 percent of electricity mix to 50 percent), and increase renewable energy to 32 percent of total energy consumption by 2030. It also requires France to reduce carbon emissions by 40 percent by 2030 compared with 1990 levels, in part by reducing fossil fuel consumption by 30 percent in 2030 compared with 2012. The emissions reduction requirement is in line with the E.U.’s 28-country commitment to cut emissions at least 40 percent by 2030.
That’s a lot to keep track of. As part of the effort, the French parliament will have to produce “carbon budgets” every five years, which will help set emissions targets for different parts of the economy. Large emitters will face a more stringent carbon tax that could nearly quadruple by 2020 from its current rate of 14.50 euros ($15.93) per metric ton.
France introduced its domestic carbon tax in 2014 to cover companies not regulated by the E.U. Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS), including those consuming natural gas, heating oil, and coal. The tax later expanded to fuels including gasoline and diesel. Originally, it started at 7 ($7.69) euros/metric ton.
As the Carbon Pulse reports, “only around five percent of France’s power comes from fossil fuels, so the tax increase will have little bearing on electricity prices. However, the country relies on natural gas and fuel oil for much of its domestic heating, meaning the higher tax will raise some household bills while adding an estimated 7 cents to a litre of gasoline and 9 cents to a litre of diesel by 2022.”
While the fossil fuel, greenhouse gas emissions, and renewable energy targets likely stand out to the international community, the rapid curtailment of nuclear power is probably the most substantial, and controversial, domestic element of the law. France is the second biggest nuclear energy producer in the world, and the country that relies most on it for electricity, with 58 reactors at 19 different power stations. In his 2012 campaign, French President Francois Hollande promised to cut back the country’s reliance on nuclear power. The new law effectively means that some of the older nuclear plants will close in the next couple years to meet the 63.2 gigawatts production limit to be put in place.
The exact manner in which these cuts will be implemented is yet to be fully agreed upon, which had led to some pushback from environmental groups like Greenpeace.
“This law sets goals, which is interesting, but it doesn’t explain how to reach them,” Greenpeace energy campaigner Yannick Rousselet told Reuters.
While the reduction in nuclear power will also cost some jobs – the industry employs an estimated 220,000 people – French Environment Minister Segolene Royal said the reforms will create 100,000 new jobs in the green sector in the next three years.
“It’s the most advanced law of its kind among industrial countries,” Royal said in an interview with French media.
President Hollande has even bigger achievements on his mind when it comes to climate change. On Tuesday at the “Summit of Conscience for the Climate” in Paris, Hollande said “an agreement must be found” at the Paris U.N. climate summit in order to avert climate crisis.
“Today, with the agreement we see taking shape, we are still above two degrees Celsius, and probably three,” said Hollande. A viable deal needs to forsake “the use of 80 percent of fossil-based energy resources to which we still have easy access,” according to Hollande.
Across the channel on Wednesday, the British government made a controversial move in seemingly the opposite direction of France by announcing plans to curb subsidies for renewable forms of energy like small solar projects and biomass generators. The plan comes weeks after the newly re-elected Liberal Prime Minister David Cameron’s government said it would also discontinue onshore wind farm subsidies next year.
“We can’t have a situation where industry has a blank cheque and that cheque is paid for by people’s bills,” said energy secretary Amber Rudd.
In responding to the cuts, the U.K.-based Guardian newspaper stated in an editorial that “it is true that some of the incentives have been too successful,” but that “just like fracking and nuclear, greening the energy supply needs intervention. It will not be cheap. But for future generations, not doing it will cost far more.”