France's nuanced record fighting climate change

Paris (AFP) –


French President Emmanuel Macron, who has aimed to make himself a leader in the fight against global warming, is the force behind Tuesday's climate finance summit in Paris.

However, France's record on the environment is more nuanced, including both innovative measures and trouble building momentum in its actions to cut greenhouse gases.

- The good -

France is one of the industrialised countries that emits the least greenhouse gases per capita, largely due to its heavy reliance on nuclear energy for its power needs.

From 1990-2015 its emissions dropped by 17 percent in industry and energy, while the European Union's in those sectors decreased by 23 percent.

Paris is struggling to shrink its reliance on nuclear power, which is currently responsible for 75 percent of its energy mix. Its aim is to grow France's use of renewables.

France became the first nation, albeit not very oil-rich, to pledge to end drilling in 2040. It has promised to shutter its four coal-fired power plants by 2022. France has also hiked its carbon tax.

- The criticism -

Campaign groups point out that French energy giant Total wants to drill at the mouth of Amazon River and French government agencies finance fossil energy projects abroad.

However, 50 percent of the projects by the French state's development agency, AFD, have for years helped fight global warming, agency head Remy Rioux said.

He said the agency wants to support the Paris climate accord on slowing climate change, but that does not mean zero fossil fuels.

"We have to switch to renewables, but that will not happen overnight," he said. The idea is to "help countries aim for the horizon of 2050... rather than adopt a strict prohibition."

- The future -

France has committed to increasing its climate funding via AFD to five billion euros per year, from a current level of three billion euros, by 2020.

"We are on the way, with about four billion euros this year," said Rioux, adding about 1.7 billion of that is bound for Africa.

However, national funding in favour of climate has stagnated, with an annual gap of 20-40 billion euros ($24-47 billion) between funds and needs, according to the Institute for Climate Economics (I4CE) think-tank in Paris.

The sector most lacking in cash is the climate-friendly renovation of buildings, though France's Environment Minister Nicolas Hulot's climate plan aims to encourage those types of building revamps.

Hulot's climate plan also seeks to boost the purchase of low-emission vehicles, which includes France's announcement it will end sales of petrol and diesel vehicles by 2040.

- 'Saying vs doing' -

Taxes on things that damage the environment accounted for 2.2 percent of GDP in 2015, compared to 2.4 percent in the EU, putting France in 20th place in Europe, according to France's national statistics agency.

Campaign groups are worried by the free trade agreement with Canada that they believe weakens environmental standards, as well as by the suspension of European negotiations on a financial transaction tax.

"At present, there is a difference between what (President Emmanuel Macron) is saying and what he is doing," said Audrey Pulvar, a French journalist and activist.