Camille Serre and Alexander Ochs

While the United States is unlikely to pass a climate bill in the near future, there may be greater hope from one of the country’s closest allies: France. A few months ago, France passed a major bill that will deeply transform the country’s environmental law, including its approach to climate change. But while the outcomes of the measure are promising, a variety of criticisms remain.

Bike at Le Louvre, Paris. © Camille Serre

After an exhausting legislative process, the “Grenelle de l’Environnement” ended with the adoption of the “Grenelle 2” bill this May. Enacted on July 13, three years after the process was launched by then-newly elected president Nicolas Sarkozy, the new legislation covers environmental topics such as climate and energy, biodiversity protection, public health, sustainable agriculture, waste management, and the governance of sustainable development. In addition to being a comprehensive environmental bill, Grenelle 2 implicitly defines the French sustainable development strategy for years to come.

Grenelle de l’environnement was named after the so-called “negotiations of Grenelle” on wages that took place in 1968, when France was paralyzed by a general strike. Back then, the primary negotiators were the government, unions, and employers. The Grenelle de l’environnement, launched in 2007, extended the consultation to five main stakeholder groups—the State, employers, unions, environmental NGOs, and local governments—to bring it more in line with the participatory nature of sustainable development.

On the climate front, France is likely to meet its current emissions reduction goals. The country has ratified the Kyoto Protocol, and as a member of the European Union it must work with other member countries to acheive an average emissions reduction of 8 percent by 2012. Because French emissions have been low due to the extensive use of nuclear energy, the country has only to stabilize its emissions at 1990 levels. However, the European Union has more ambitious reduction goals for the post-Kyoto period (starting in 2013). In 2008, it set a target of reducing regionwide emissions 20 percent by 2020, and it is now considering increasing this goal to 30 percent.

Moreover, as one of the G8 countries who have agreed to cut their emissions 80 percent by 2050, France is being challenged internationally to curb its emissions beyond current goals. At the domestic level, the country’s programmatic energy strategic law of July 13, 2005 sets a target of reducing national emissions 3 percent per year, resulting in a projected division of emissions by four by 2050 – so called “Factor 4.”

To help achieve these commitments, Grenelle 2 includes various measures that aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. For example, it contains incentives to embed sustainability into French urban planning: so-called urban master plans (Schéma de Cohérence Territoriale) will be finalized before 2017 to enhance policy coherence between urban, industrial, farming, tourism, and natural zones, and also to help tackle urban sprawl. Grenelle 2 also allows for a possible exception for energy-efficient buildings to the Building Density Limit (COS), which specifies the maximum building density of a landed property allowed, by acreage.In general, Grenelle 2 makes great improvements regarding the energy efficiency of buildings. Currently, emissions from buildings account for around 18 percent of French greenhouse gas emissions.

The new law sets a target of reducing the average energy consumption of buildings nearly 40 percent by 2020, and puts a focus on advanced energy performance for both old and new buildings. New buildings built after 2012 are to consume less than 50 kilowatts per square meter, and those built after 2020 must be “energy positive,” producing more energy than they consume. As of 2013, old buildings must be renovated at a rate of 400,000 buildings per year, with the renovation of public buildings starting before the end of 2012. Through this means, the government aims to reduce the energy consumption of public buildings by at least 40 percent and to cut their greenhouse gas emissions 50 percent by 2020.

Additionally, as of 2012, renters of real estate must be informed about the energy performance of their buildings so that they can make energy costs part of their decision to rent a place or not. The transport sector is responsible for about 25 percent of French greenhouse gas emissions, making it essential to support alternatives to fossil fuel-powered vehicles. Grenelle 2 provides for a clarification of the capacities of local governments and pushes for the further development of public transportation schemes. It also encourages local governments to follow their European neighbors (among others London and Milan) by implementing urban tolls for cities of more than 300,000 inhabitants. Alternatives to conventional means of transportation are being encouraged as well, including self-service bike rental stations (such as Velib in Paris or Velo’v in Lyon) and car sharing, fostered by the creation of a new “label” that establishes standards and that will be set by decree. Grenelle 2 also aims to encourage the use and maintenance of hybrid and electric vehicles as well as the necessary infrastructure to power them.Despite these positive advances, Grenelle 2 has been criticized on a variety of fronts.

Come back soon to read Part 2 of this blog for more about the law and its potential outcomes for France’s low-carbon future.

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climate, Climate Change, climate legislation, energy, energy efficiency, energy policy, environmental law, France, Grenelle, Sakozy, transport