Policy brief: Does the French new energy programme maintain the status quo or signal a shift in trajectory?

By Claire Roumet on 4 December 2018

by Claire Roumet, Executive director of Energy Cities

By some quirk of the calendar (or not), France unveiled its pluriannual energy programme the day before the European Commission was scheduled to publish its own long-term strategy. The latter plan, which should prove ambitious, is targeting a “net-zero” greenhouse gas-emitting Europe by 2050, based on models that are solid and accepted by the climate community.

Reduction of demand, mix of all possible technologies (including those which haven’t hit the market yet or may even remain forever hypothetical)… The Commission did not wish to make the strategy a prescriptive one (reducing meat consumption, for example) so close to the European elections. Although it has placed reducing demand at the highest level of priority, it is mainly attempting to show how the energy transition can be an opportunity for Europe. The possibility of a truly common project, a chance to innovate and create new industrial processes, a new economy. This attitude is a responsible one, as it does not oppose jobs and the future prosperity of sobriety with the climate.

The plan offers a vision beyond the false choice between “end of the month” and “end of the world”. The method is equally critical: The Commission, whose term is ending, has opened a yearlong debate to forge a consensus between industries, players, and Member States. To this end, it is asking all of us to be active in translating the vision and the models into concrete trajectories.

France’s pluriannual energy programme – the realization of an existing vision for a 2050 goal inscribed in France’s energy transition law – could be considered as a step further, one which should therefore be bold.

France’s programme offers continuity. No shift in trajectory, no energy mix, no solutions, no players.

It is an insult to all the citizens and players who have been mobilized for the past year in the debate. If we are to seriously and truly change trajectory, new economic models need to be selected (after choosing to drastically reduce demand). Non-choices are irresponsible. Putting all options on the table and having a debate, while having been done, needs to be considerably expanded with real negotiations, which is something the Dutch government did with its climate roundtables.

Isn’t it incredible that a government whose absolute priority is reforming the country would find that the most strategic, most economically important sector (as it underpins all others), the most promising sector with regards to innovation and local industrial renewal, doesn’t actually need transformation? That it can wait for 2035 before we need to ask ourselves the big questions?

Both strategies, France’s programme and the Commission’s 2050 strategy, share a design flaw: they both tackle the issue backwards (in addition to the distorted debate): what are our real needs? Where are the energy sources to cover our daily needs locally, and what are the remaining needs that must be satisfied with non-renewable sources?

When the Chinese government has invested 400 billion Euros since 2013 into energy infrastructure and production worldwide, where flows will matter: that is another model. A break.

I say we are way off base! Compared to China, of course, but also because producing energy in Laos to sell in Germany does not seem, to me, like a desirable future.

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