Climate policy ‘á la française’

Climate policy ‘á la française’

France’s role in international cooperation on climate change

03/2021  | Reading time: 8 minutes

Shortly after his election in 2017, French President Emmanuel Macron set out to strengthen his country’s role in shaping international climate policy. The country has long been in the forefront of the fight against climate change—many argue that the adoption of the Paris Agreement in 2015 is partly due to France’s strong diplomatic efforts. In 2017, the French government launched a comprehensive national climate plan focused on improving citizens’ quality of life while protecting the environment and the ecosystem. However, despite the ambitious climate policy goals, the opportunity to revise the constitution to include references on climate and environmental protection has been long awaited. With measures underway, the final period of Macron’s five-year term will be of great importance for future generations.

France is one of the European countries most potentially affected by the long-term impacts of global climate change due to its geographical position and features. In addition to the country’s overseas territories at risk from sea-level rise—especially in the Pacific Ocean—there are several areas in Metropolitan France where a potential climate disaster could have devastating consequences. In the mountainous regions, the negative effects of the dramatic melting of glaciers are becoming increasingly apparent. While the country’s Mediterranean coast is plagued by desertification in summer and unpredictable and heavy rainfall in winter, on the Atlantic coast increasingly violent storms hamper fishing and agriculture.

One of the indicators of constant warming is that mean temperature for January in Metropolitan France has increased from 4.78 ℃ in 1990 to 7.14 ℃ in 2019. Consequently, global warming is leading to milder winters and hotter summers across the country. Given the drastic changes in weather, it is no surprise that the country’s leadership is fully committed to national and global climate aspirations. An analysis by France’s national meteorological service, Météo-France, shows that at the current rate of warming, heatwaves of 50 ℃ in the summer will not be uncommon in the second half of the century. All this will particularly affect the southern part of the country, where the so-called tropical nights—when the temperature does not fall below 20 ℃ even at dawn—are already having a severe impact on the population. Under current conditions, the climate typical of North Africa is expected to prevail on the northern coast of the Mediterranean.

If global warming continued at the current pace, heatwaves would become more frequent and more violent in France.
Source: Melinda Nagy/Shutterstock

The social tensions resulting from the threat of climate change and environmental problems also contribute to French governments’ high level of commitment to climate protection. A government survey in 2019 addressed the main factors causing uncertainty amongst the population. The survey shows that most people are concerned about the effects of global warming; health damage from air pollution; and natural disasters that occur as a result of global warming. These challenges are already affecting the daily lives of French people. The majority of respondents agree that the elimination of negative environmental impacts is clearly a state responsibility, therefore, the implementation of measures to support environmental protection contributes the principal role to state authorities. More than half of the respondents also think that curbing global warming is one of the most important factors in protecting the ecosystem. Considering social attitude, it is not surprising that the French government is trying to take the most serious legal steps to combat climate change and further environmental degradation.

The latest milestone in the fight against climate change is the creation of a comprehensive climate bill (loi de climat) and the possible elevation of environmental protection to a constitutional duty. The draft proposal for a law could enable the economy and the society to become sustainable. The bill contains several items that regulate the daily lives of citizens, such as consumption, production, employment, and transportation. The drafting of the bill is based on the proposals of a citizens’ convention composed of 150 volunteers from the public from all walks of life. The general aim is to steer the French citizens’ lifestyles back on a slightly more environmentally friendly track, within reason. The draft law, for example, would ban the promotion of fossil fuels and eliminate domestic flights, which can be replaced by rail. The main goal of the above-mentioned suggestions is to reduce France’s greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by 2030 compared to 1990, without losing sight of social justice.

The majority of French people are in favour of France’s stronger commitment to international climate policy.
Source: Hadrian/Shutterstock

In addition to its dedicated commitment to domestic climate and environmental protection, President Macron also assigns his country a leading role in international climate policy cooperation. During his tenure, France regularly participates in existing forums on the subject. As a former host of the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference, the country remains committed to creating new frameworks to further promote dialogue on this issue. This year’s environment-related conference—organised under the auspices of United Nations (UN) to support global adaptation to climate change—was dedicated to the issue of water scarcity, which is becoming more widespread and severe. Emmanuel Macron seized the opportunity to deliver a speech at the virtual conference, stressing the importance of adaptive capacity and social resilience to avoid social shocks caused by climate change or the coronavirus pandemic. As President Macron pointed out, there are two billion people on the planet facing difficulties due to water scarcity and this growing number threatens to increase climate migration. However, he finds it reassuring that humanity already knows what needs to be done to mitigate the negative consequences of global warming, referring in particular to the provisions of the Paris Agreement.

One of the key principles of French climate diplomacy is that environmental changes affect different countries to different degrees: developing countries much more than developed ones. According to the French narrative, therefore, curbing the pace of climate change goes hand in hand with reducing inequalities. This increases the moral significance of global climate change mitigation efforts, as the world’s leading powers also help to raise the living standards of the most vulnerable social groups through climate action. In the Sahel region, which is particularly important for French security policy, severe water scarcity exacerbates poverty and, thus, contributes to the strengthening of radical groups in the region. Under the so-called “Great Green Wall” project, France has allocated EUR 10 billion to develop the sustainability of agriculture in the region.

French President Emmanuel Macron takes every opportunity to stress his conviction that environmental degradation, social and global inequalities, security policy, and migration are closely linked.
Source: bibiphoto/Shutterstock

The legally binding Paris Agreement to mitigate the effects of global climate change was adopted by the international community on 12 December, 2015. The long-term goal of the agreement is to keep the increase in average global temperature below 2 ℃ above pre-industrial levels. Many see the agreement as a victory for multilateral diplomacy, and France, as host of the conference, then led by François Hollande, contributed greatly to its success. Although the success of multilateral cooperation was temporarily interrupted by the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the agreement, a decision on the US return to it was made immediately after Joe Biden’s inauguration in late January. Emmanuel Macron welcomed the decision of the new American leadership.

In addition to the adoption of the Paris Agreement, another major success of French climate diplomacy has been the regular convening of the One Planet Summit since December 2017. Initial French efforts to organise the conference series were supported by UN Secretary-General António Guterres and the then president of the World Bank Group, Jim Yong Kim. Each individual summit in the series focuses on different challenges cited by the Paris Agreement and participants are organised into coalitions along specific projects. The most recent instalment of the One Planet Summit, on 11 January, 2021, was organised around the theme of biodiversity. Paris is particularly interested in the conservation of terrestrial and marine ecosystems. To protect biodiversity in the Mediterranean, France is working closely with Spain and the Principality of Monaco. The main goals of their coalition are to create protected marine areas, end overfishing, make maritime transport more climate and environmentally friendly and reduce marine pollution by banning single-use plastic. In addition to preserving biodiversity in the Mediterranean, the French government is also paying particular attention to the ecosystem of the waters that are part of the overseas territories.

The preservation of marine biodiversity is one of the priorities of France’s climate policy.
Source: Andriy Nekrasov/Shutterstock

According to France’s approach, measures to protect the climate and the environment have not only a security dimension but also an economic one. This approach was articulated by President Macron in his speech at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, which, this year, was organised in an online format because of the pandemic. In building economic ties, Paris is doing a great job of protecting the environment by refusing to sign trade agreements with countries that have not joined the Paris Agreement.

According to President Emmanuel Macron, the global economic recovery after the coronavirus pandemic offers a great opportunity to build a sustainable and equitable international order. To this end, France has established the so-called Recovery Plan (France Relance). Under the comprehensive economic recovery programme, announced on 3 September, 2020, the government will mobilise EUR 100 billion of which EUR 30 billion will be spent on the ecological transition. Within the frame of the Recovery Plan, Prime Minister Jean Castex and Barbara Pompili, serving as minister of the ecological transition, have recently announced the implementation of further projects such as the creation of low-emission zones in cities and larger towns; state renovation subsidies to reduce energy consumption in the housing sector; or state aid for the replacement of cars with high emissions with a more environmentally friendly model.


The opening pic is by Valmedia/Shutterstock

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