By Pierre Cannet, Head of Climate, Energy & Sustainable Infrastructures, WWF-France


All eyes are turning to the Paris Climate Conference (COP21) in December 2015, when 195 countries will meet to agree future international climate plans.

As conference hosts, France has an opportunity and a responsibility to demonstrate its leadership – and that means taking urgent actions now, at both domestic and international levels.

On the domestic front, France is pursuing 2020 targets fixed by the ‘Grenelle de l’Environnement’ (a national cross-party, multi-organization forum) and EU 2020 targets. Among the main 2020 goals is to have 23% renewable energy in the energy consumption mix.

But France’s development of renewable energy is still too weak. In 2013, renewables accounted for 14% of the country’s energy consumption, but there have been delays in development of off shore wind power and wood-energy – despite the fact that France has global industrial champions in these sectors.

In order to reach its 23% renewables target by 2020, and increase its ambition in the short term, France will have to adapt its regulation and develop economic tools to accelerate investments in this sector.

The French Energy Transition bill, which is now under discussion, will provide new targets for the mid-to-long term, and new tools to accelerate implementation in the short term.

The French environmental agency estimated that an additional 10-30 billion euros (US$11-34 billion) of investment in France are needed to implement the right transition. Unfortunately, the energy transition bill would only provide a fraction of this, and does not advance any mechanism to leverage or encourage that kind of level of investments. So other decisions would have to support the transition in the short term.

The bill also intends to expand French green growth, covering other key sectors like building, clean transportation and sustainable cities. This holistic vision represents an evolution, taking all of French society on an ecological transition. Citizens, local government and businesses must all be involved. The benefits will include health, employment and wellbeing.

Clean transportation is already covered in the bill, including the obligation for public organizations to have at least 50% ‘clean vehicles’ and suitable charging terminals.

Responsible French engagement must also go beyond its borders at EU and international levels. Over the 2007-2013 period, France supported coal projects abroad worth US$1.67billion through its export credit agency. The two coal power plants supported by French export credits in South Africa produced the equivalent of 14% of French greenhouse gas emissions (at 2011 figures).

Ahead of the Lima climate conference last December, the French president announced that France would put an end to its support for coal projects around the world. In the lead-up to COP21 in Paris, it’s crucial that this is reflected in the way France votes in the actions of multilateral development banks (like the Asian Development Bank), and its decisions as a shareholder in companies, as well as in policies about its export credit agency and development aid.

At the EU level, France should also strongly advocate a real price on carbon, driving the transition to a low-carbon economy, especially through an ambitious reform of the European Trading Scheme (ETS) this year.

The ETS is in crisis because of an over-allocation of schemes in the market, but there’s still time to save the system. Among other measures, France should advocate for the implementation of a ‘market stability reserve’ in early 2016/17 to absorb this surplus.

On the road to COP21, France will have opportunities to create a positive international dynamic for raising ambition. By making investments to support the transition to renewables and energy efficiency, by participating in an ETS reform to put a price on carbon at EU level, and by ending its support for coal projects abroad, France would gain much more legitimacy in the international arena – and make it easier to facilitate climate discussions and promote urgent action.