• French ‘grenelle’: a good first step if not yet a full revolution

    Michel Dubromel, head of sustainable transport and mobility at France Nature Environnement, assesses the French president’s ‘green revolution’


    Nicolas Sarkozy’s ‘green revolution’ proposals can be traced back to the presidential election campaign earlier this year. During the campaign, all the French NGOs requested fundamental changes on environmental issues. In response, the newly-elected president launched his ‘grenelle’, a stakeholder forum that met in early July and whose main proposals were announced last month.

    This first and unique experience (for France) required the stakeholders to raise and discuss long-term proposals in five different ‘thematic teams’: climate, biodiversity, health and environment, governance, and ecological taxation. Transport issues fell in the climate team, which meant they were considered alongside such activities as energy production, housing and town planning.

    What has emerged is a good first step, though it has to be seen in the context that France was a late starter on many environmental issues. It must also be noted that the list of proposals is still awaiting evaluation – both economic and environmental – by the end of this year, so no action will take place for a few months.

    The decision to freeze construction of new motorways – except city bypasses – will be subject to many claims from regional authorities as some projects are very close to being started. The freezing for the construction of new airports looks achievable, but the extension of the TGV high-speed rail network (up to 4500km of new lines) is very optimistic due to the large impact the proposed lines would have on biodiversity.

    The 25% increase in rail freight by 2012 is mainly focused on transferring long-distance shipments from road to rail. Rail freight has never been a priority in France (around 10% of total freight), and we hope this challenge will lead to a fundamental change.

    The extension of public transport by adding 1500km of new lines by 2020 would mean doubling the existing network. This target has been set with the aim of reducing greenhouse gases by 20% by 2020.

    A number of financial incentives have been proposed to encourage some of the targets to be met. An example is the annual bonus-and-penalty system aimed at speeding up the process of purchasing less polluting cars; the goal is to reduce CO2 emissions from the total car fleet from an average of 176 g/km to 130 by 2021. And the government is committed to introducing lorry charging on all motorways and major roads in 2010, and it will request that external costs be included in next year’s revision of the EU Eurovignette directive.

    A lot of improvements have been suggested for aviation but without any fundamental change. Aviation’s inclusion in the EU Emissions Trading Scheme is approved, but any kerosene taxation is rejected.

    The fact that environmental NGOs have been involved in this process and seem to be considered as partners is a positive step, but the ‘break-through’ that Sarkozy has spoken about has not yet happened, and much lobbying will be required before it does.

    This news story is taken from the November 2007 edition of T&E Bulletin.