The Grenelle, a French green revolution

Yesterday in Paris took place what will perhaps be remembered as the green event of the decade in France.

The President Nicolas Sarkozy detailed in a 30-minute speech a very ambitious plan that concluded weeks of discussions on environmental causes within what is called here Le Grenelle de l’Environnement.

From transportation and housing to electricity generation and biodiversity, all major topics were tackled and dramatic shifts toward sustainability will occur everywhere.

This was a true international event as the President of the European Commission Mr. Jose Manuel Barroso was attending to this speech as well as Al Gore, and the Nobel Prize winner and the environmentalist Wangari Maathai. (Nobel Peace Prize winner of 2004)

The former US Vice President was very impressed by what the French government did in coordination with experts, NGOs and many representatives of the civil society. He stated his willingness to see a Grenelle mondial (in French in the text, a worldwide Grenelle)

The Grenelle constitutes an example as it involved many people. It also gives an idea of what a democracy can do when all partaking parties are gathered to discuss for weeks on specific topics.

Mr. Sarkozy wants France to be an example on climate change mitigation and the expressions such as ” ecological New Deal ” or ” Marshall Plan ” where said.

The original Marshall Plan enabled with just two percent of the GDP to rebuild Europe after World War II. Last year, Nicholas Stern stated that only a percent of the GDP would enable us to avert global warming.

To all the sceptical people, The French President stated that all this do not represent costs but the most profitable investment that can be done as it will create thousands of jobs.

Here are some of the main conclusions :

  • More energy efficient buildings

hlm.jpgWhile writing in 2006 my Master’s degree thesis, I discovered that the French residential sector could save huge amounts of energy and decrease in an even more important way its greenhouse gases emissions.

To act in this direction, the President advocated insulating older constructions and building low energy ones (50 kWh per year per square meter).

400,000 old accommodations will have to be renovated every year in order to reach a maximum energy consumption of 80 kWh per square meter per year. This has to be compared to the 260 kWh it nowadays consume on average.

All this will concern more than 30 million housings.

  • Greener transportation

The fact that no more motorways or airports will be built and green transportation means will be promoted constitute the main point on this topic.

This will include the development of train or waterways for freight. Trucks will be taxed when using roads.

For people, up to 2,500 kilometers of TGV (high speed train) lines will be built by 2020 and more importance will be given to buses, tramways and cycles inside towns.

Furthermore, a tax for the most emitting cars will be implemented and low emitting ones will benefit from the money collected from this tax. This is a sheer revolution in the way of thinking as polluting consumers will give money that will go directly to the more ecological ones.

All this will be done to cut by 20 percent the emissions of this sector by 2020.

  • A new energy policy

solar_thermal.jpgThe conclusions of the Grenelle include recommendations to push forward renewable energies – to reach 20 percent of the total consumption by 2020 – and to decrease France’s dependence from fossil fuels.

Our country will continue to invest on nuclear as it is very important here and as it is one of the lowest emitting energy sources.

However, for each euro invested there, one will be given to the research on renewable energies.

To the French President, why would we have to choose between nuclear and renewables when we need both to face the urgency of the situation ?

I could’nt agree more as France benefits from a very clean electricity production thanks to nuclear. However it could benefit from renewables a lot more to answer its heating needs and the new rules are going in this direction.

To finish on this matter, energy efficiency of appliances will be strongly advocated and incandescent light bulbs will be banned by 2010.

  • Agriculture and biodiversity

The main goal is to reduce by 50 percent the use of pesticides and the 50 most harmful substances will be banned.

The biological agriculture will be heavily promoted in order to reach 6 percent of surfaces by 2012, to compare to the current two percent.

To protect biodiversity, a network of corridors will be built between to allow wildlife to proliferate.

  • International relation and business

President Sarkozy is willing to tax products coming from countries that do not respect the Kyoto Protocol (like the United States and China).

He wants to involve in an important way the whole European Union in this ambitious plan and will make the French Presidence of the EU in 2008 the occasion to implement all those changes in all EU

  • Miscellaneous

One of the other main subjects was the possible creation of a tax on polluting energy sources.

This could replace the current taxation system. However, due to the complexity of the issue, further investigations will have to be done to see the feasibility of such a breakthrough.

More sorting out and recycling will be encouraged and incineration will become that last resort for waste. This kind of facility will have to produce heat or electricity.

  • Conclusion

To infer this long article, the Grenelle de l’Environnement is only the beginning of this green revolution and the advances that were proposed today have to be voted and implemented.

The State Minister to Sustainable Development, Mr. Jean-Louis Borloo, wants assessments as time goes concerning the implementation of these bold policies.

Of course, I will write here about what will happen next in France and abroad as I have no doubt that things will move forward faster after that.

Edited on October 27th to add an element on the energy policy.

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