The French Round Table on sustainability known as the Grenelle de l’Environnement is now three years old and this was the occasion for French government experts to publish an evaluation report.
Three years ago representatives of national and local government and private organizations from industry, labour, professional associations and non-governmental organizations were asked by President Sarkozy to work together on making France more sustainable.
What was announced after these discussions was presented as “green new deal” with some ambitious goals.
Three years later, the plan suffers mixed reviews even though the report notes 77 percent of all planned actions have been carried out or will be in the future.
This might seem like a lot, but only 18 percent of these actions have been already realized to date. Among the ideas that have been realized and worth spreading around the world include:
- The feebates system for cars is a tremendous success. The Sustainable Development Minister, Mr. Jean-Louis Borloo, recently boasted that France had the cleanest car fleet in the world. Indeed cars emitted an average of 150 grams of CO2 per kilometer in 2007 and now emit only 133 gr/km today. Meanwhile, France has been heavily taxing gas for many years already.
- The development of high speed rail with 2,000 kilometers (1,250 miles) of new rail lines. This will double the amount of TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse, or High Speed Train) lines. Additionally, 400 kilometers (250 miles) of new mass public transportation are also being realized, which is as much as during the previous three decades.
- Buildings are a critical issue as they use 42% of the total energy consumed and are responsible for 25 percent of greenhouse gases emissions. To solve this problem, France is encouraging the development of low consumption buildings and provides a zero-interest rate loan to people willing to retrofit their apartments and buildings with. By 2020, all new buildings will have to produce more energy than they are consuming (positive energy). Public buildings will also have to be retrofitted.
- Electricity : Despite being heavily reliant on nuclear (78 percent) and hydro power (ten percent) for its electricity, France is also willing to develop renewable energy sources such as offshore wind and solar to bring their proportion to 23 percent of the electricity mix by 2020. As I noted previously France has set a target of 3,000 MW of offshore wind by 2015.
This may seem fantastic but not everything has been put in place. Critical topics such as the carbon tax – which I wrote previously about – and the extension of the feebate system to other products have been delayed or simply canceled.
The failure to implement a carbon tax resounded, at the time, as an end of the government’s commitment to green issues as it was supposed to speed up the transition to a more sustainable society by bringing billion of euros to help fund related projects.
Building low energy buildings or even positive energy ones looks cool, but one should not forget that already built houses and buildings seriously need to be retrofitted and weatherized. It is estimated that 400,000 buildings will have to be retrofitted each year by 2013, compared to 250,000 currently.
Other critical topics such as biodiversity protection, a more sustainable agriculture and measures to decrease waste still need to be tackled.
But patience in politics (and reforms) is a virtue.