France Promises National Energy Efficiency Drive

LYON, France, September 12, 2000 (ENS) - French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin has promised a new national drive for increased energy efficiency, which he said would help to ease the impact of high oil prices by helping consumers and businesses to reduce consumption.


French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin addresses delegates to the latest round of climate change negotiations in Lyon, France. (Photos courtesy Earth Negotiations Bulletin)
The initiative was announced during Jospin's opening speech at a session of international climate change talks now underway in Lyon.

Jospin said that the plan would be launched later this year by Environment Minister Dominique Voynet.

It has been universally greeted by the domestic and international media as an attempt to claw back some environmental credibility after the French government last week capitulated to anti-fuel tax protesters.

Widespread and disruptive protests against high fuel prices by French hauliers, fishermen and other groups have forced the government to cut, suspend and even abolish a number of taxes, including an environmental tax escalator on diesel fuel introduced in 1998.

Jospin's move highlights the increasing political pressure facing European governments trying to increase fossil fuel taxes for environmental reasons at a time when world oil prices have tripled over 20 months.

Last year, similar protests forced the UK government to scrap its fuel tax escalator. Germany's fuel tax escalator has faced similar opposition, though so far without forcing a change in policy.


(From left) French Environment Minister Dominique Voynet, Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, UN Climate Change Convention executive secretary Michael Zammit Cutajar take an escalator to the meeting hall.
Even so, at a meeting in Versailles, France on the weekend, the finance ministers of the 15 European Union member nations agreed not to drop their fuel taxes in the face of the demonstrations. Fuel taxes can add up to 80 percent to the price of a gallon or litre of gasoline.

Burning oil, gas and coal produces heat trapping greenhouse gases linked to global warming. Such alarming signs of Earth's warming climate as polar ice melts, sea level rise, widening ozone holes over both the North and the South poles, and the migration of warm weather disease carriers to new areas of the world have alarmed scientists and governments.

Climate change is considered to be among the most serious threats to the sustainability of the world's environment, the health and well being of people and the global economy. Mainstream scientists agree that the Earth's climate is being affected by the build up of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, caused by human activities, including electricity generation, agriculture and transportation. In spite of some lingering uncertainties, a majority of scientists believe preventive and prompt action is necessary.


Prime Minister Jospin addresses the delegates.
To limit global warming, most countries have signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change which sets out a framework for action to control or cut greenhouse gas emissions. Signed in 1992, the treaty entered into force in 1994.

A Protocol to the Convention was adopted in 1997 at the Third Conference of the Parties, held in Kyoto. Although it has yet to enter into force, the Kyoto Protocol commits 39 industrialized countries to achieve quantified targets for decreasing their emissions of greenhouse gases.

France already has a national plan designed to meet its Kyoto Protocol target of stabilising greenhouse gas emissions by 2008-2012 based on 1990 levels. The target for all European Union countries, including France, is a reduction in emissions of eight percent.

The new French government plan is expected to focus on transport, improving residential energy efficiency and will include a large publicity campaign.

Jospin has also confirmed that France's general pollution tax, known as TGAP, will be extended next year to include energy. Reminiscent of the UK's approach, energy intensive industries could be exempt but, if so, would be expected to sign voluntary agreements to reduce emissions.

In Lyon this week, diplomats from more than 140 countries have gathered to work on refinements to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. This session of the negotiations will provide a final check on where governments stand before the World Conference on Climate Change, to be held in The Hague during November 2000.

Several outstanding issues remain with regards to the financial implications of meeting these Kyoto Protocol targets for limiting greenhouse gas emissions and how countries, especially poorer ones, will manage the future effects of global climate change.

Progress on issues, such as how emissions trading will work in practice, must be must be made this week to help ensure success at negotiations in The Hague in November.