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Environment

France seeks unlikely compromise between wallets and environment

media Youths demonstrate for climate change during the "Fridays for Future" school strike, in front of the Ecology Ministry in Paris, France, February 15, 2019. REUTERS/Charles Platiau

With less than a week to go before the end of France's national debate, civil society organizations, backed by former environment minister Nicolas Hulot, are proposing a fiscal 'big bang' to reconcile the country's ecological and social needs. It is part of a new ecology pact presented Tuesday, but some critics argue it is too optimistic.

"These proposals are no more than good intentions, because they don't actually give a price for anything," Jean-Philippe Brette, member of the grassroots organisation In Vivo, says, arguing they fail to calculate the price of carbon emissions.

Global warming or pverty?

On Tuesday, former French environment minister Nicolas Hulot, union leader Laurent Berger, and 19 non-governmental organizations, presented 66 proposals as part of a new ecology and social pact to reconcile the fight against global warming with the fight against poverty.

"When you ask for money, you have to be very clear about what you're going to do with this money, and explain why you've chosen one policy over another," Brette told RFI.

Brette's organisation was due to hold a debate Tuesday night to discuss how to reformulate taxes that accompany people through the energy transition, without penalizing those who are hard up.

He argues that Yellow Vest protesters went on strike precisely because they were being unfairly taxed.

Samuel Leré, spokesperson of the Nicolas Hulot foundation and one of the signatories of Tuesday's pact, defends its proposals.

Fiscal 'big bang'

"I don't think our propoals are merely good intentions," he tells RFI, pointing to one "clear example": dissociating public investment in clean energy from public debt.

"We reckon that France will need between 20 to 40 billion euros per year. Today, we're unable to make this contribution, because we're limited by tight EU fiscal rules," he says.

Experts argue that investing in renewable energy sectors would increase France's
debt-to-GDP ratio
by around 0.5 to 1.5 percentage points by 2027, beyond the EU limit of 3.0 percent.

Nicolas Hulot and his cosignatories are calling for a fiscal 'big bang' to free up resources that would allow France to make a pain-free energy transition.

"We hope that this time the government will listen to us," continues Leré. "For years, we've been warning authorities about the importance of putting in place a fair energy transition for all." To no avail.

Last August, Hulot slammed the door saying that the Republic on the Move government was simply not doing enough to fight climate chaos and the collapse of biodiversity.

However, Brette of the grassroots organisation In Vivo, fears that pushing public opinion towards inefficient renewable energy sources is "skewed."

A different model

"What would be efficient is to invest in renewable energy sectors that work, in line with the Court of Auditors' recommendations," he says.

Currently, two thirds of investments are geared towards solar power, and a third towards wind power. Brette believes more emphasis should be placed on better insulating homes or producing electric vehicles.

"It’s a utopia, it’s not really practical," thinks for his part communications specialist Philippe Moreau-Chevrolet, however he recognises the "value" of the ecological and social pact.

"There has been no alternative to Macron and his government till now. It is really important that one exists," he comments.

"There has to be different voices when it comes to climate change, and Nicolas Hulot wasn’t at ease in the government. He wants to have his own model," he told RFI.

Final debate

What these proposals will change, if the government decides to go through with them; is ensuring that in future, new policies are evaluated according to their impact on the environment and the bottom 10% of the population, who are the hardest up. 

"We hope that they [the government] take into account all our proposals, not just some of them," argues Hulot's spokesperson Leré.

The proposals will be debated next week during the final leg of France's national debate, that was triggered initially by government plans to raise fuel taxes, considered unfair for motorists and consumers.

If approved, the pact will likely get its baptism of fire in July when the goverment begins examing a new public transport law to improve access to transport for citizens in rural areas.

"The priority going forward has to be to reconcile France's environmental and social needs," says Leré.

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