France: Kyoto Remains a Distant Goal

Publisher Name: 
InterPress Service

PARIS, Dec 3 (IPS) -- France has made considerable progress in reduction of greenhouse gases, but will still fail to meet the objectives of the Kyoto Protocol if it does not intensify efforts to reduce emissions, according to a new official report.

The Interministerial Commission on Greenhouse Effects (MIES, after its French name) says that by present trends France will exceed the limits on carbon dioxide emissions fixed under the Kyoto Protocol by 10 per cent.

Under the Kyoto agreement on global warming signed in 1997, most countries pledged to freeze their carbon dioxide emissions by 2010 at the level of 1990. For France, this represents 552 million tonnes a year.

The campaign against the greenhouse effect in France has produced positive results, the report says. Carbon dioxide emissions have been brought down 15.5 per cent from 1990 to 2001.

French industry has reduced emissions by 25 per cent over this period, and energy generation companies by 22 per cent, the report says. But emissions through transport and house heating have increased.

Carbon dioxide emissions from transport have risen more than 26 per cent since 1990, and emissions from house heating more than 12 per cent, the report says. These two sectors produce 47 per cent of greenhouse gases emitted in France in 2001.

"Despite our good partial results, the documented trends suggest that France won't fulfil the objectives fixed by the Kyoto agreement without improving the measures implemented today," says the report published last week.

France will fail to meet the target despite the fact that it generates almost all its electricity in nuclear power stations, which do not emit greenhouse gases. France has no carbon- or oil-fired generators either.

Analysts point out that the standards fixed by the Kyoto agreement represent only a 5 per cent reduction of gases causing the greenhouse effect. To avoid irreversible damage to the climate, it would be necessary to reduce emissions by up to 80 per cent.

"We certainly could do better," Dominique Dron, MIES president told IPS. "If we continue to emit carbon dioxide at the present level, we certainly will miss the objectives of Kyoto." MIES has proposed more attention to renewable sources of energy like the wind and the sun.

The government is now revising the National Plan Against Global Warming (PNLCC, after its French name), drawn by the former Socialist-led government in 2000. A new commission to be formed by representatives of several ministries will be set up in spring 2003 to lay down guidelines for reform.

But environmentalists point out that the new government has cancelled a tax on industries emitting excessive carbon dioxide and other polluting gases. This tax was intended to help reduce emissions by 40 per cent. The government argued that a European guideline is needed for such a tax.

The government also cancelled another tax on pollution in ground water caused by excessive use of fertilisers.

"The energy and carbon dioxide emission policies of the French governments, both the present as well as the former one, only put in practice less than 10 per cent of all measures their own experts conceived and wrote down in the PNLCC," says Philippe Quirion from Climate Action Network. The network represents about 30 French non-governmental organisations, including Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace.

"We don't really need a new commission to think about a programme," Quirion says. "All we need is real sincerity and to put in practice the existing plan."

Quirion points to problems with transport. "We all know that merchandise freight by truck is environmentally the most inefficient of all forms of transport, and that we could substitute it by increasing the use of railways," he says. But use of railway transport has been falling in relation to transportation by heavy trucks across Europe.

European Union figures indicate that in 1990 the railways carried about 255,000 tonnes of goods per kilometre while trucks carried almost four times as much. By 1998 railways were carrying 241,000 tonnes per kilometre while trucks were carrying 1.25 million tonnes a kilometre.

The EU estimates that by 2010 trucks will carry 1.9 million tonnes a kilometre, while the railways will carry 272,000 tonnes a kilometre.

Despite such figures, the French government has announced that it will reconsider an earlier project to build a railway line between Lyon in the south and the Italian industrial centres around Milan. The project would substantially reduce heavy truck transport in the Alpine region.

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