Climate: The five essential issues of ecological planning


The concept of “ecological planning”, pivot of the Programs by Jean-Luc Mélenchon, was taken over by Emmanuel Macron during the between-two-rounds for his second five-year term.

As he announced during a speech in Marseille on April 16, 2022, the re-elected president entrusted this planning to his current Prime Minister, Élisabeth Borne. Regarding the climate, the implementation of such a project raises five essential questions.

The prerequisite: agreeing on the right objective

La National low carbon strategy (SNBC), a climate roadmap inherited from the previous five-year term, retains the target of climate neutrality in 2050. This long-term objective is in line with that of the European Union.

To aim for neutrality in 2050, the EU raised its intermediate objective in December 2020, aiming for a minimum reduction of 55% in greenhouse gas emissions between 1990 and 2030, compared to 40% previously. This decision led to a spectacular increase in the CO quota2 on the European market and an ambitious legislative package under discussion in the European Parliament: the “Fit for 55”.

Since 2005, greenhouse gas emissions have followed a linear trend leading to emissions of around 325 Mt of CO 2eq, well above the European target of -55%.
Citepa data

The SNBC inherited from the previous five-year term remains set on the intermediate objective of -40% in 2030. The decisions of the French courts giving reason to environmental NGOs within the framework of "deal of the century" related to the delay in achieving this objective at the start of the five-year term. A delay caught up since, with the help of the confinements imposed by the Covid. On the other hand, no acceleration in the pace of decarbonization of the economy has taken place. After the ebb of 2020, the shows joined in 2021 the detectable trend since 2005 that does not lead to a 55% drop in 2030.

The first act of ecological planning will be to re-evaluate the intermediate objective which must be in conformity with our European commitments. Can we go further? the Programs de la Nupes shows a -65% which raises questions about the means to be implemented to achieve this.

Energy: demand triptych, renewables, nuclear

The use of fossil fuels being the source of three-quarters of our emissions, the acceleration of the energy transition conditions the achievement of a 55% reduction in emissions by 2030.

On the demand side, this implies more actions promoting energy efficiency and sobriety. The detailed assessments from the scenarios of the Négawat organization give the measure of the objectives to be achieved without totally deciding on the means to be committed.

On the supply side, the substitution of carbon-free means of production for sources of fossil origin should be accelerated. Firstly, this requires accelerating the deployment of renewables for which our country acts as red lantern within the EU.

This involves clarifying the role of nuclear power, almost all of which will reach 40 years of age in the coming years. Extending the useful life of this fleet requires an investment estimated at 50 billion euros by EDF. Abandoning this investment by decommissioning the reactors as they reach 40 years old would deprive the country of most of its carbon-free resources, which are difficult to replace with renewables within the time limits set.

In the long term, what will the existing nuclear fleet have to be replaced with? The deployment of new EPR-type reactors could not provide carbon-free energy before 2035. Given the dynamics of falling costs of renewables and electricity storage, it is doubtful that this path is economically justified. . A matter for urgent debate to introduce economic rationality into ecological planning.

Initiate the shift towards agroecology

In 2021, agriculture was at the origin by a fifth of the country's emissions, mainly methane and nitrous oxide resulting from crop and livestock practices. They are not reduced by acting on energy but by changing the methods of agricultural production.

The experimental organic orchard of Gotheron, in Bourg-lès-Valence. Launched by INRA in the Drôme and planted in circles, it is designed so that each species of tree defends its neighbor against parasitic attacks.
Jean-Philippe Ksiazek/AFP

The path leading to it is that of agroecology, which focuses on the diversity of living things, the complementarities between plants and animals, the protection of soils to store organic matter, water and carbon. The fallout from the war in Ukraine is a powerful reminder of this: the objective is not to produce less, but better and more sustainably by increasing the resilience of agricultural systems in the face of climate change.

France is struggling to initiate the agro-ecological shift. The European Commission recently challenged the “national strategic plan” aimed at implementing the environmental guidelines of the new CAP. Emissions from agriculture are not declining and the capacity of the natural environment to absorb CO2 of the atmosphere has been declining since the mid-2000s. With forests and soils absorbing a decreasing proportion of agricultural emissions, the prospect of climate neutrality is receding.

Counteracting these counter-performances must be a priority for future ecological planning. This implies acting simultaneously on supply and demand, with a variation by territory, essential to develop agricultural and food models that are not compatible with our climate objectives.

The plan as an “uncertainty reducer”

Ecological planning will not place us on linear emission trajectories, as pre-programmed by an omniscient planner. It is a path of constant learning, with failures that must be corrected and incessant contradictions crossing the social body. Three principles will make it possible to make the ecological plan a "reducer of uncertainties" according to the formula of Pierre Masse.

The first thing to do is to synergize the different territorial scales. A large part of the actions to reduce emissions or to strengthen resilience in the face of global warming can only be carried out at the local level. The existing planning tools in the regions and municipalities still only play a secondary role. They must be solidified.

Smoke from the Neurath coal-fired power plant (Germany). It is one of the most CO₂ emitting sites in the EU.

The second principle concerns the proper use of public money which should be reserved for sovereign functions: research and development, low-carbon infrastructure, enhancement of ecosystem services, reduction of inequalities, support for conversions. To combat the glaring insufficiency of these investments, it is necessary to save on a number of subsidies, including those favoring “green products”, which generate windfall effects and often contribute to increasing social inequalities.

Applying the polluter pays principle, carbon pricing is, along with standards, an essential instrument to encourage all economic players to turn away from fossil fuels. The dynamic here is European with the strengthening of the CO quota system2. A crucial aspect is its extension to all emissions from transport and buildings. If it takes ecological planning seriously, the French government must defend this aspect of the reform.

Climate justice, a condition for citizen support

Finally, ecological planning must be based on the support of citizens, for whom it is not enough to tell beautiful stories about the benefits of the low-carbon transition. Such support is obtained by applying rules of justice based on the triptych of purchasing power, employment, resilience.

The impacts of climate policies weigh more heavily on the budgets of poor households or households located far from city centers. The implementation of ecological planning, in particular via carbon pricing, therefore requires redistributive measures to correct the risks of a decline in the purchasing power of the most vulnerable populations.

The low-carbon transition will cause an acceleration of industrial and agricultural reconversion. Their financing is the poor relation of the public expenditure directed towards this transition. Anticipating and financing professional retraining must become a major lever for ecological planning.

Global warming affects more severely the populations that have generally contributed the least to the increase in the greenhouse effect and generates new inequalities. As reminded by 6th IPCC report, these impacts will intensify over the coming decades, regardless of the global emissions scenario.

Ecological planning must therefore include a section on adaptation to the consequences of global warming, another poor relation of climate policies inherited from the past.

Christian from Perthuis, Professor of economics, founder of the “Climate economics” chair, Paris Dauphine University - PSL

This article is republished from The Conversation under Creative Commons license. Read theoriginal article.

Image credit: / Adrien Demers

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