Is a job-creating green economy too subversive an idea for the French?

Is a job-creating green economy too subversive an idea for the French?

By Elodie Jacquet

November 23, 2011

France is aiming at reducing its carbon emission by 20% by 2020. A very recent report entitled: Trajectories 2010-2050, towards a low-carbon economy actually suggests that boosting France’s reduction from 20% to 30% by 2020 would create more jobs and be more beneficial to the economy. That’s still far from an environmentally acceptable target mind you… In the current state of disarray of the European Union, one would think such a report would be most welcomed by government officials.

Well it appears it is not so. The report, commissioned by the government and written by one of France’s top economists, Christian de Perthuis, was not, as usual, published, but swept quietly under the rug. The Prime Minister allegedly asked for the publication to be postponed. The newspaper La Tribune managed to get its hands on a copy of the report and led an investigation into the affair.  The investigation uncovered that it is the Medef, the union of France’s CEOs (yes they actually have their own, very powerful union), that insisted the report was “unrealistic” and suggested watering down the language.  According to the union, a reduction of 30% of GHG’s by 2020 is not doable.

So what is so subversive in this report that it had to be shushed? The report states that an emissions-reduction goal of 30% would create 125 000 additional jobs in 2020 and 164 000 by 2050.  By increasing the price of carbon to 40 Euros a ton in 2020, this 30% reduction goal would allow the government to generate more revenue. If France were to remain at its current 20% reduction goal, there would actually be a loss of 12 000 jobs. So where’s the catch?

Regulations that are to be implemented starting in 2013 would force major industries to “buy” the “carbon emission quotas” that they currently get for free. The revenue generated by the taxes would then be transferred to small and medium businesses by the way of tax exemptions and subsidies for innovation in the low-carbon economy.

Medium and small businesses currently create more jobs in France. Apparently the big industry players are not willing to pay for their emissions and even less willing to help finance innovation and job creation. The industries that would be most vulnerable to these regulations are the energy sector and the construction sector. They argue they would be more vulnerable to competition from other EU countries. However, this would be the case if no other country in the EU were to take measures to reduce their carbon emissions, which is far from the case. Countries like the UK, Germany or Denmark have already stated that their emissions-reduction targets would increase.

The report also recommends this debate be made public. By burying the report, the French government has taken a poor start…

A question lingers: how is it that even when serious economists (that you can’t really suspect of being hippy-tree-hugger types…) emphasize how a low-carbon economy would actually be more beneficial for everyone ( including elected officials, for whom massive job cuts are not good news) no one seems to believe them? What is so subversive in the idea of a sustainable, green economy? What will it take for countries like France to take a bold leap forward and propel other partners through this transformation?

We are so far from the Age of Enlightenment here! Someone really needs to turn on the LED lights and illuminate the path forward for both the politicians and France’s corporate leaders.

Further Reading: Réduction d’émissions de CO2: le rapport qui dérange, by Aline Robert

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