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French Election 2017: Where the Candidates Stand on Energy and Climate Change

Jocelyn Timperley's picture

Jocelyn Timperley is a climate and energy journalist. Jocelyn holds an undergraduate masters in environmental chemistry from the University of Edinburgh and a science journalism MA from City...

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  • Mar 17, 2017 12:00 pm GMT
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The French presidential elections are fast approaching with the first voting round set to be held on 23 April and the run-off between the top two candidates – if neither wins a majority – on 7 May. Jocelyn Timperley of Carbon Brief takes a look at where the major candidates stand on energy and climate change. Courtesy Carbon Brief.

Climate change as an issue has risen in importance in France over the past few years, particularly in light of the country’s key role in guiding the historical Paris Agreement into being in 2015. However, it has not featured strongly as an issue in the French elections thus far.

As well as promising to ban all shale gas exploration in France, Macron says he will grant “no new hydrocarbon exploration permits”, as well as closing all coal power stations in France within five years

Carbon Brief takes a detailed look at what the three leading candidates have to say about climate change and energy, drawing on their manifestos and public statements.

Who’s who

The odds are currently looking good for former economy minister and investment banker Emmanuel Macron, who launched his presidential bid back in November 2016 under his own recently launched “progressive” party En Marche! (On The Move!).

Marine Le Pen, the right-wing Front National (FN) leader who came third in the last French election in 2012, is also a prominent candidate.

Meanwhile, Republican party nominee François Fillon, who served as prime minister of France from 2007 to 2012 under former president Nicolas Sarkozy, is currently continuing in the race despite being embroiled in a scandal over allegations that members of his family were paid public money for fictitious jobs.

Carbon Brief trawled the candidates’ manifestos and public statements for climate and energy content and translated them into English. The results are summarised in the interactive grid, below. You can view the results by topic or by candidate and follow the links to source material. If no link is provided, the statement comes from the candidate’s manifesto.

Emmanuel Macron

Long accused of not backing up his policies with details, Macron last week released his presidential programme, including a varied set of propositions on the “ecological transition”.

Macron pledges a steady move to renewable energy, including an aim to double France’s wind and solar capacity by 2022, compared to today’s levels. As well as promising to ban all shale gas exploration in France, Macron says he will grant “no new hydrocarbon exploration permits”, as well as closing all coal power stations in France within five years (a year earlier than the current target). He will keep France’s current target to reduce nuclear power’s share of the French energy mix from 75% today to 50% in 2025.

He also pledges to “integrate the ecological cost” into the price of carbon in France by increasing the carbon tax to €100 per tonne of CO2 in 2030 (from an earlier version of his manifesto, this appears to be a proposed national measure). He also promises to make implementation of the Paris Agreement a priority of his international agenda.

The seven proposals in [Marine Le Pen’s programme] include a complete ban on wind power, but a pledge to “massively develop” other renewables including solar and biogas

The programme also contains one particularly eye-catching proposal: a commitment to pursue trade sanctions at the European level against countries that do not respect the environmental clauses of trade agreements with the European Union.

Macron specifically mentions President Trump on this, saying “faced with the whims of the new American president, France will have to weigh in particular so that Europe ensures the United States faces its responsibilities.” Macron has previously warned that Trump would be making a “grave mistake” if he went back on his predecessor’s commitments on climate change.

Intriguingly, in a previous version of his environmental programme, Macron said the EU should impose sanctions on countries which pull out of the Paris Agreement. However, this appears to have now been softened to apply only to the environmental clauses of trade treaties.

Marine Le Pen

Le Pen includes a section on France’s environment and energy transition in her 144-point presidential plan released in early February. Le Pen has previously positioned herself as somewhat of an environmental advocate, contrasting with her climate skeptic father by launching a “New Ecology” movement in 2014 – though this was still founded on a platform of opposition to international climate talks.

While relatively sparse, the seven proposals in the environment section include a complete ban on wind power, but a pledge to “massively develop” other renewables including solar and biogas using “intelligent protectionism” and “economic patriotism”. There is no explanation for what these terms might mean.

She also vows to ban the exploitation of shale gas as long as “satisfactory environmental, safety and health conditions” are not being met.

Although Fillon supports renewables, he opposes subsidies as being too expensive and instead wants to see them developed by the “hand of the market”

Under her leadership, the state would support research and development in a French hydrogen industry (which she specifically calls a “clean energy”) in order to reduce dependence on oil, she says. She also wants to maintain and expand nuclear power.

She is in favour of products being consumed close to where they are produced. She opposes free-trade treaties, such as the transatlantic free-trade area TAFTA and the EU-Canada agreement CETA, writing in her manifesto that “the true environmentalism is to produce and consume as closely as possible and recycle on site”.

She says she will ban the import and sale of products from abroad which do not comply with the standards imposed on French producers.

François Fillon

Fillon says in his environment and energy transition programme that climate change has become “a major issue for our planet”. He appears to favour market mechanisms to combat it and wants to focus efforts on setting up a carbon floor price mechanism in Europe. For this to be effective, he says, the price will have to be set to at least €30 per tonne.

Although he supports renewables, he opposes subsidies as being too expensive and instead wants to see them developed by the “hand of the market”. He would support renewable energy with a tax credit, funded using revenues from his carbon floor price. He would also encourage private investment in renewables and says he will favour competitive large-scale renewables projects.

He opposes France’s Energy Transition law target for reducing the share of nuclear energy in the power mix, which he calls a “dogmatic choice” which is “untenable and contrary to the general interest”. Instead, he wants to see the lifetime of existing nuclear plants extended. Meanwhile, he aims to eliminate electricity generation from fossil fuels by setting a target of close to 0% as soon as possible.

Fillon replacement?

Alain Juppé, who served as prime minister in the mid-90s under former president Jacques Chirac, has been touted as the favourite to take over the Republican party’s nomination, if Fillon were to step down. While he doesn’t have a manifesto, he said last year that he is “convinced that human activity bears a heavy share of responsibility in climate change”, adding that “denying it is denying reality”.

However, earlier this week, his candidacy looked far less likely after he said he would not run.

The other potential candidate to replace Fillon is François Baroin, who was previously finance minister and is a long-time ally of Jacques Chirac. As mayor of Troyes he has previously addressed the need for the state to take responsibility for protecting people from climate risks, rather than regional levels of government.

Editor’s Note

Republished under a Creative Commons licence from Carbon Brief: Jocelyn Timperley, French election 2017: where the candidates stand on energy and climate change, 7 March 2017

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Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Mar 17, 2017

Bravo Fillon – a pro-nuclear, anti-fossil Republican in the mold of our own John McCain.
Republicans with heads on their shoulders have not yet been rendered extinct by nationalist, free-market idiots (LePen/Trump) – an encouraging sign.

Jesper Antonsson's picture
Jesper Antonsson on Mar 17, 2017

Very interesting, but what of the nuclear policies of Mr Macaroni? Following the links I see that he surprisingly supports the reduction of nuclear to 50% in 2025 proposed by the incumbent, President Hollandaise.

However, that doesn’t really compute. He wants to merely double solar+wind (to 10-15% or so) until 2022 and simultaneously get rid of all fossils. So until 2022, nuclear needs to be virtually untouched (if they aren’t really, really going to go for curbed consumption or reverse the positive electricity trade balance). And then go from 75% to 50% in three years, combining fairly rigid nuclear with unprecedented amounts of wildly fluctating intermittent RE into a load-following mix? Good luck with that.

Let’s hope that the numbers of Mrs. Marinate le Pennes and Mr Fillet adds up.

Darius Bentvels's picture
Darius Bentvels on Mar 18, 2017

Pro-nuclear Fillon arranged that parliament paid up to near a million to his wife and children, while they never showed at the working place and no sign that their ‘work’ did result in anything or that they worked even one hour…

Once elected (though little chance due to his corruption history) he will drop anything of his program if it suits his position.
So the nuclear reduction law won’t change as that idea is popular in France hence it doesn’t suit his position. Anyway parliament won’t agree.

Note that France would be only ~8years behind Germany in 2030 regarding renewable if they reach their 2030 target of 40% renewable (always somewhat dubious in France due to their different culture).

Jesper Antonsson's picture
Jesper Antonsson on Mar 18, 2017

In terms of CO2 emissions, France was done in the late 80-ies and Germany wants to be almost done in 2050. So France is more than 70 years ahead of Germany.

Sweden decided to be rid of nuclear by 2010, btw. That decision was on the books and reconfirmed many times leading up to that date. Today we have 40% nuclear, down from 50% and now the target is 2040. We’ll see how that goes. Possibly we’ll shut down aluminium smelters and let parts of the pulp/paper industry move to coal-based countries. Then we can make do with hydro and wind and wash our hands.

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