With a new President France is taking a look back at the progress accomplished 5 years after after the national push towards sustainability. The Minister of Economy, Delphine Batho, asked for 30 indicators to track the improvements made in protecting the environments. The indicators ranged from green house gas emissions to recycling and energy efficiency (picture - courtesy of Le Monde newspaper).
The report was developed ahead of the conference on the environment to take place in Paris mid-september. Like many other countries, France is dealing with the realities of trying to support industrial growth while transitioning to an eco-friencly economy. Overall, the report gives a B- ("can do better"), and highlights areas where more progress must be made to meet the 2020 goals.
In 2007, the country attemped to unite across aisles in an attempt to make a difference. Hence the name "Grenelle de l'environment", a term reminiscent of the accords signed in 1968 between the unions, the university students, and the industry leaders when the country was paralyzed by strikes. Somehow the Government was able able to bring all parties to the table and work out a new social order.
The effort in sustainability fell short of the expectations 5 years ago overall despite improvements overall. In areas such as energy consumption, progress has been made but not enough to meet its european commitments. Like debts, european countries have difficulty containing energy consumption and are looking at ways to be more efficient.
France is still 20% of its targets and must redouble efforts it wants to meet the Kyoto targets for 2020. Buildings for instance have lower their energy footpring by 4.4% from 2006 to 2010, still far from the 38% targeted for 2020.
Within homes, French people have started to embrace recycling like their German neighbors. That is one of the bright spots of the report. French recycled 35% of its trash in 2010 compared to 31% in 2006, on trajectory to hit the 45% goal for 2015.
After a few years of improvements, urban pollution is on the rise again in 2011. And green house gas emissions from vehicles are stabilizing at 132 tons of CO2 equivalent per year. It is better than the peak of 2002 at 143 tons but the goal of 120 tons per year seems to be hard to achieve without more drastic improvement in vehicle fuel efficiency.
The transport sector summarizes the difficulties that the French Government faced (picture above). It has supported the two French car automakers, Peugeot-Citroen and Renault-Nissan, in the last decade but has not seen a return. More jobs are being cut. The French Government recently slowed down a round a lay-off at one of Peugeot key manufacturing sites. It is making more aid conditional to stronger commitments by auto-makers to invest in electric and other fuel efficient vehicles.
This situation in France (picture above) is not without comparisons with the situation of American automakers in 2008. The country has no choice but to move forward with improving fuel efficiency and supporting Renault and Peugeot in an increasingly more competitive market. One difference is that Renault has already a strong alliance with Nissan. They may benefit from the head-start that Japanese automakers have on hybrid vehicles and electric cars. However, recent problems in aligning corporate governance between the French and Japanese entitity have led to delays.
As a matter of fact, Nissan went with its Lithium-Ion technology in collaboration with NEC for the Nissan Leaf model in 2009-10. In contrast, Renault wanted to take the time to developp or find the right technology and preferred sub-contracting to a south-korean battery maker, LG Chemical, in the meantime.took the time to look at the market and pre-selected LG.
However, Renault decided to align with Nissan and jumped on the band-wagon of the Nissan-NEC joint-venture and the proprietary project in France was delayed. Finally, Nissan decided to go with LG Chemical and its joint ventur ewith NEC is closing. The Renault management for its new line of electric vehicles is growing uneasy about the lack of collaboration. It has cost more than $600M and two years for delays by not fully supporting the French project.
This is a good example where it is difficult to navigate a sector where technical considerations matter as much as financial investments and regulations. The interaction of technology, business and policies makes it challenging to understand contradicting facts and developp confidence that thing are going in the right direction.
Another example in France is agriculture. While organic farming has increased form 2% to 3.5% of all cultivated lands, the use of artificial fertilizers has significantly increased. This is not the only paradox that the country and the French Minister of Ecology (picture right) has to face. France has a rich settlement of natural gas but, unlike the US, is unwilling to embrace gas fracking to reduce dependence on foreign oil until the new technology is proven environmentally sound.
France benefits from a large park of nuclear and hydro powered plants. It represents almost 70% of its energy mix. Fossil fuels represent less than 15% of energy generation. Compared to Germany, which has banned nuclear, France has more time to look at alternatives and intends to do so in the case of natural gas.
In the meantime, renewable energies have slowly increased from 10% in 2006 to 13.1% in 2012. Hydro is pretty stable around 10% and wind has been the main source of increase compared to solar. The goal of 23% in 2020 wil be hard to reach without integrating better renewable energy sourcesthat are intermittent. France launched last year a major off-shore wind project along along the north western coast where the winds are more stable.
New targets for solar and wind will discussed during the conference on the Environment on September 14 and 15. This is one area where Minister Delphine Batho wants to see progress. One of the problem that France has to face though is the lack of unity in the various green political movements unlike what took place in Germany.
Green parties in France is close to the socialist party now in power, but more pragmatic socialist leaders are careful in their approach to transportation and energy production. The two sectors still represent a large part of the economy, with companies like EDF and Air France. For instance, the socialist Government is unclear about the future plan for nuclear, which is seen in France as a matter of national security.
In a tense economic environment, French ecology actors are "going back to school" and hope to get a better grade in 5 years.