Despite the Paris attacks that occurred at the beginning of November, France is still hosting this year’s United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) event, starting next Monday and taking place through the second week of December. This year marks the 21st session of the UNFCCC’s Conference of the Parties (COP) and the eleventh session of the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (CMP). COP21, as it is referred, is the culmination of years of negotiation. 2015 is the year in which we hope nations will come to a universal agreement on climate change that is stringent enough to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and keep global warming below two degrees Celsius.
Host countries to the UNFCCC have the responsibility of ensuring that the negotiations go smoothly and that countries succeed in coming to an agreement. France has taken this role seriously, actively supporting a substantive international agreement at COP21 and pursuing domestic policies related to sustainability. Let’s take a more detailed look at the country’s environmental and climate actions:
France is ranked 27th out of 178 countries in Yale University’s 2014 Environmental Performance Index. The last host country, Peru, ranked 110th. Historically, France has been on board with environmental efforts even though the country’s emissions are relatively low at 1% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Emissions from energy production are much lower in France compared to many other countries due to the county’s heavy reliance on nuclear: about 75% of the country’s electricity is from nuclear power. As an European Union (EU) member state, France ratified the Kyoto Protocol in 1997, and its GHG emissions during the Protocol’s first commitment period (between 2008 and 2012) decreased by 7% of 1990 levels.
All nations were expected to submit their planned contribution to cutting GHG emissions (or in UN-terms, their Intended Nationally Determined Contribution or INDC) in the beginning of 2015, in preparation for COP21. France’s INDC was submitted in March 2015 as part of the European Union’s official commitment, where EU member states committed to a binding target of at least 40% reduction in domestic greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 compared to 1990. According to Climate Action Tracker, which rates countries’ INDCs based on how ambitious and “fair” the cuts are, the EU’s INDC rates in as “medium”.
France’s Energy Transition for Green Growth Act, which passed in 2015, is intended to help France as UNFCCC host by allowing the country to lead by example. This new energy transition bill touches on various issues, from building efficiency standards, to transportation, jobs, and waste. The bill quadruples the price of carbon-based fuels by 2030 and reduces the amount of energy France receives from nuclear power (from 75% to 50% of France’s electricity supply) by 2025. Moreover, the bill calls for a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by 2030 compared with 1990 levels (as the EU’s INDC calls for), and by 75% by 2050. The act will also halve final energy consumption by 2050, reduce fossil fuel consumption by 30% by 2030, and increase the share of renewables in total energy consumption to 32% by 2030. In terms of aiding developing countries in climate change mitigation, of the 7.4 billion euros allocated to the energy sector by the Agence Française de Développement (AFD) since 2007, 5.8 billion euros has been used for renewable energy and energy efficiency projects.
In a lead-up to the conference, France has also worked to engage its population in the climate change discourse. Le Monde, France’s major newspaper, has a COP21 section dedicated to the conference with articles like “21 Words to Understand COP21” and polls such as asking readers about efforts made at home to reduce emissions. Even in bookstores, one can find a table designated solely for books on climate change, the negotiations, and sustainable living. In September, the mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, issued the first ever car-free day in Paris to combat smog, and plans to implement more of these days in the future.
Preparing for the Conference
At the beginning of November, just four weeks before the negotiations, France’s President François Hollande and Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping issued a joint statement reinforcing the importance of addressing climate change. Both countries publicly agreed that the deal should include five year check-ins to assess country progress made towards achieving long-term goals. France would have liked an even stronger approach: review and revisions to the goals every five years, but negotiations are just that – negotiations. The same week President Hollande visited South Korea to discuss sharing emission-reduction technology with emerging nations as a key part of COP21. Having South Korea as a facilitator could help get an agreement signed by emerging countries.
France is establishing optimal conditions for civil society participation in COP21. In particular, regular meetings will be held with civil society representatives (NGOs, businesses, unions, etc.) in the lead-up to the Conference, in order to gather opinions and involve all those who are dedicated to making it a success. A dedicated civil society “village” will be set up on the site in Paris, which will be accessible to people without official accreditation, unlike the official negotiating areas.
Although the country is not allowing climate marches to occur in public places due to security reasons after the recent attacks, France is allowing climate demonstrations to occur in closed spaces around the country. The People’s Climate March has responded to this, saying this just increases the significance for people in other countries around the world to march on behalf of those that cannot in France. On Sunday, November 29th, cities all over will participate in a global climate march.
With so much to gain from COP21 in terms of climate action and international environmental agreements, France has really tried to capture the momentum building up to the climate talks in order to bring an optimistic and refreshed atmosphere to the negotiation tables. Let’s hope that the world’s countries are reinvigorated by the ville lumière –or City of Enlightenment, the original translation of Paris’s famous nickname– next week and an ambitious and meaningful agreement is made.