And so the populist threat came and went. For now. Emmanuel Macron beat Marine Le Pen and much of Europe breathed a sigh of relief. This was also the case for a majority of environmentally conscious voters, for which Ms Le Pen would have been a disaster. But for many, Macron wasn’t a popular choice with most young, green voters doubting Macron’s sincerity when he promised an “Ecological 5 years”.
First things first, Macron got some things right in his first term. He is one of the key architects of the European green deal, the most ambitious environmental programme in the world, which includes many things the environment movement campaigned for long and hard. He should get at least some credit for that.
He made some serious errors too. He badly bungled the carbon tax plan, doing lasting damage to carbon pricing across the world. He called a citizens convention only to ignore its recommendations and he forced the EU to accept gas as a green fuel. His single greatest weakness has been his – and some of his ministers’ – constant acquiescence to industry lobbies.
In the end Macron did manage to convince just enough young, green minded voters to put their trust in him. He must not betray their confidence. What he does on transport will be a good test case.
5 transport tests
Transport is France’s biggest climate problem accounting for a third of its carbon emissions. It is also a major concern for most French citizens, as shown by the gilets jaunes protests. It is therefore crucial that he gets this right.
Zero-emission cars: no ifs, no buts
Emmanuel Macron must support a much faster pace of vehicle electrification and stand up to the automakers’ lobby – Stellantis and suppliers in particular – who are trying to slow things down. Electric vehicles offer the single best chance to provide zero emission, affordable mobility, both in cities and the countryside.
To start with, Macron should finally come out in favour of the EU’s plan to shift to 100% zero emission vehicles by 2035, no ifs, no buts, just as Germany did a few weeks ago.
Then there’s what he can do in France. The real low hanging fruit is to electrify company cars which represent 50% of the new car sales and 68% of CO2 emissions. These cars should be all-electric from 2026. This will save huge amounts of carbon.
Macron’s proposal to create a social leasing scheme making €100 per month electric cars available to low income families is interesting. Coupled with initiatives to equip social housing with rooftop solar and install charging infrastructure it could become a great accelerator for the energy transition. But any government funded scheme should ensure those vehicles are available for sharing.
Macron did a great disservice to green tax reform by bungling the introduction of the carbon tax so badly it created the yellow vest revolt. Now, instead of increasing petrol taxes he is reducing them. As Macron said himself when debating Le Pen, rich people don’t need such state subsidies or tax cuts. Bruno Lemaire, the current economy minister said the fuel tax rebate would be replaced by a “more targeted measure”.
A cash allowance of €50-100 per month for low and middle families would more than compensate for recent fuel price increases. Such an allowance would give France a unique tool to deal with swings in global oil prices or to compensate for the higher fossil fuel taxes that are inevitable if Macron is truly serious about France being the first nation to move out of coal, gas and oil.
The home of Airbus
France is home to Airbus and is one of the world’s great aviation nations. Despite talk of Air France becoming the greenest airline in the world and Airbus producing hydrogen jets, in practice little happened. It’s time to get serious about carbon pricing for aviation and come up with proposals to guarantee in law that Airbus delivers on its promises of a clean aircraft.
Green hydrogen to power global trade
France’s High Council for Climate flagged that more than half of the country’s GHG footprint comes from imported emissions. A concrete measure to slash these emissions is to clean up maritime transport, which is 99% dependent on fossil fuels. Fossil liquified natural gas is no solution; instead, France should give full support to a minimum quota for hydrogen-based fuels by 2030, that is currently in discussion at EU level.
Keep gas and nuclear out of “green” investments
Last but not least, it is absurd to develop plans to wean Europe of Russian gas whilst simultaneously encouraging green investment in new gas power plants. In a bid to give nuclear energy a green finance label, Macron formed an unholy alliance with the gas industry. It is time to rip that pact apart and kick Putin’s gas out of the Sustainable Finance Taxonomy.
Emmanuel Macron worked hard to appeal to green voters. He made big promises. It is essential he does not betray their trust. The future of our democracy and our planet are at stake.