From green bonds to solar roads: France’s low-carbon revolution is taking shape

History was made in France a little over a year ago when national delegates from across the world agreed on a landmark climate deal. With the Paris Agreement now ratified, the host nation is introducing a plethora of fresh green legislation aimed at transforming the way it interacts with the environment.

The city of Paris will forever be intertwined with the global push to transition to a low-carbon economy. For some, the Eiffel Tower remains a symbol of romance, but thanks to the Paris Agreement’s successes, the landmark will also be remembered for the time that the phrase “for the planet” was draped across its front.

The COP21 talks set the global low-carbon transition into motion, with 195 nations ultimately agreeing on a binding climate change deal aimed at limiting global warming to a 2C rise. And the speed of progress since the December 2015 meeting has been staggering; little over a year later, the deal has been ratified and entered into force.

So, France was the place where mankind finally agreed to get serious about fighting climate change. And one year on, the country is keen to lead the climate movement and has introduced waves of innovative measures and legislation to ensure that it leaves a lasting climate legacy.

Here at edie, we’ve pulled out some of the recent landmark announcements that prove that France isn’t just committed to slashing at carbon emissions, but intends to create a more sustainable living environment for its citizens.

Financial revamp

The country ended 2016 by submitting its long-term climate action plan for the Paris Agreement to the secretariat of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The quick construction of the plan should come as little surprise – France was the first major nation to officially ratify the Agreement in June.

Under this plan, France is committed to reducing emissions by 40% by 2030 against a 1990 baseline. This target will then incrementally rise until a 75% reduction is set for 2050. While this target has only just been submitted to the UNFCCC, the country has already taken steps to decarbonise its economy and sectors. Following the action plan submission, France became the second country after Poland to launch a set of green bonds.

The country’s Finance Minister Michel Sapin said that the bonds would be significantly larger than Poland’s $780m bond scheme, but declined to say how much France intended to raise. Sapin noted that it would be big enough to be included under international indices – typically worth €2.5bn – and that the country wants the bond maturity to last 15-25 years.

French investor Caisse des Dépôts and French insurance corporation CNP Assurances have both made big commitments in reducing the coal exposure of more than €865bn of assets and potentially mobilising more than €20bn into green sectors alongside German giants Allianz.

France is also operating with a €56-per-tonne carbon price – which will grow to €100 per tonne by 2030 – while also creating a floor price for carbon in the electricity sector at €30. According to French Ecology Minister Ségolène Royal, the floor price compliments the soon-to-be revamped Emission Trading System (ETS) so well that it should be extended across the whole of Europe.

Construction and green building innovation

With a large proportion of the finance sector now on-board with the low-carbon agenda, the French Government will be hoping it can support numerous low-carbon initiatives. One of the braver initiatives that it will hope to financially back is new legislation which entails that all rooftops on new buildings – constructed in commercial zones – must be partially covered by plants or solar panels.

With buildings accounting for a huge proportion of global carbon emissions, the country has turned to green roofs and solar panels, one of which limits the amount of carbon produced, while the other is capable of storing it, in a bid to promote sustainability within urban areas of France.

Entering into force in March this year, the legislation could help boost solar panel use in the country, with 2014 figures highlighting a 5,300MW of solar array productivity annually. The innovative approach is currently only aimed at new commercial buildings, but has helped align sustainability practices within the construction industry.

If green buildings are innovative, then France’s most recent unveiling could well be revolutionary. Just three days before Christmas, the small village of Tourouvre-au-Perche in Normandy unwrapped a one kilometre solar road.

The 30,000 sq.ft solar road cost $5.2m to develop as panels had to be covered in a silicon-based resin allowing the products to withstands the weights of heavier vehicles such as rigs. If the road, constructed by Colas, performs to specification, it will generate enough energy to power the surrounding streetlights.

The road will essentially act as a pilot project, and providing there are no bumps along the way, Royal hopes to introduce the scheme to 1,000km of French highway.

Transport measures

One area where that solar road is unlikely to appear any time soon is central Paris, mainly because Mayor Anne Hidalgo plans to pedestrianise a 1km stretch of the city. Cars could soon be banned along the Seine river from Place de la Concorde to Pont Royal in an effort to reduce traffic and enhance air quality along two main west and eastern facing roads.

To enable quicker travelling methods in the area, which could be shut off to vehicles by September 2018, an electric tram-bus will run along parts of the upper highways along the river in both directions.

The Mayor hopes that pedestrianisation will help lower spiralling air pollution. In December, Paris banned 50% of French drivers from entering the city centre, which was suffering from the highest case of winter pollution in a decade.

Cars with odd and even license plates had alternate access to the city roads during a four-day spell in December. Hybrid-electric and all electric vehicles (EVs) were excused from the sanctions, although news publication The Local reported that around 1,700 fines between €22 and €75 were issued to those ignoring the ruling.

The December ruling was the latest in a crackdown against high-polluting vehicles across the country, which also saw cities such as Marseille suffer from poor air quality.

From January 16, French motorists will have to display different coloured Crit’Air ‘clean stickers’ on their vehicles, so that authorities can easily determine which vehicles – the most polluting – will be banned from entering low-emission zones.

Under the initiative, emergency vehicles, certain delivery and security vans and vintage cars will be excluded. Other emission-limiting measures introduced include a “superbonus scheme” extension, whereby motorists can receive a €10,000 payment for swapping polluting vehicles for EVs, and a €1,000 electric scooter grant will also be introduced.

In comparison, the UK’s Plug-in Vehicle grant offers a maximum of £4,500 depending on the model category of the car, although this does increase to £8,000 for certain vans.

War on waste

Nearly a third of all food is lost or wasted globally, costing $940bn per year and accounting for around 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions. In order to comply with UN Sustainable Development Goal 12.3 – halving food waste per capita and reducing food losses by 2030 – France has introduced new measures aimed at cutting food waste and limiting waste in general amongst national businesses.

Last year, France implemented a ban on supermarkets, forbidding them from throwing away unsold food. With fines reaching up to €75,000, the supermarkets have to donate to food banks and charities as an alternative way to dispose unsold food – a concept that is already proving popular in the UK.

French councillor Arash Drambarsh was instrumental in establishing the law in France – the first country to implement the ban – and has since looked to extend it across Europe, with his petition to do so closing in on one million signatures.

Indeed, there is an ongoing movement to end poor trading practices by supermarkets across Europe. While MEPs have voted 600 to 48 to enforce laws that limit the amount of food waste being produced, the European Parliament’s environmental committee has also called for European food waste to be halved by 2030 in a recent report.

Food waste has seemingly grown hand-in-hand with plastic waste, an issue which is now plaguing the oceans. To combat the alarming growth in plastic waste, France will introduce a new law for 2020 that ensures that all plastic cutlery, cups and plates are made of biomaterials which can be composted.

Energy transition

Finally, there is France’s Energy Transition for Green Growth – an ambitious domestic climate action plan that calls on landfill waste to be halved by 2025. Key goals of the plan include: halving energy consumption by 2050 from 2012 levels, reducing fossil fuel consumption by 30% against the same timeframe, have renewable energy account for 32% of energy consumption and 40% of electricity generation by 2030, and interestingly, halve the share of nuclear power in the energy mix by 2025.

The nuclear reduction goals is a primary interest for the UK, which is sourcing French companies to expand its nuclear infrastructure. The most high-profile case is the £18bn Hinkley Point C, which enlists the expertise of French firm EDF in establishing and constructing the £92.50/MWh baseload plant.

Back to the Energy Transition, and France has also agreed to phase-out single-use plastic bags in January 2016, replacing them with reusable one. A voucher system is also in place to fight energy poverty; low-income households will receive €50-€150 subsidies towards energy bills. Taxpayers will also receive tax credit corresponding to 30% of renovation costs incurred when enhancing domestic energy efficiency. Zero-interest loans for homeowners will also be introduced at a rate of 100,000 a year.

Matt Mace

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