A good and a (very) bad news came out within a few days. The International Energy Agency revealed that in 2014 the total amount of CO2 emissions resulting from energy use (excluding therefore Road Transport) remained stable. This is unexpected for this amount remained stable despite the economic recovery. Usually, it remains stable when there is a decline or a stagnation of economic activity.
At the same time, Paris went through an episode of fine particles (PM10) and knew an extremely serious pollution episode that made Paris one of the largest and most polluted capitals in the world. This is clearly not a glorious record at the time Paris is getting ready to host the big climate conference, COP 21, in December. This coincidence reveals a tremendous yet not innocent misunderstanding about the climatic deterioration and air quality.
The consequences which are not seriously discussed today of the CO2 emissions impact on the climate are global. All gas emissions affect the entire planet. There is no connection between the action taken by a State and the climatic change in this particular State. This is why the issue must be addressed in the context of international cooperation. But the local political manipulation of these global issues can lead to mistakes and counter-productive choices.
The stability of the total amount of emissions in 2014 is mainly due to the United States and China. It is a beautiful paradox caused by the revolution of shale gas that occurred overseas, and by its repercussion on the economy through the price system. The increase in production - the export of which was, until recently, impossible - caused a price decline and mechanically led power generators to transfer the production of coal plants to gas plants. Margins (spark spread and dark spread) played a crucial role in the decisions of the operators and the State did not have to intervene. This phenomenon is sustainable and it represents several hundred millions tons of emissions per year – amount equivalent to the emissions of France.
China has changed its growth model (less heavy industry, more services) and the modernization of its electricity production system has begun to bring about positive consequences in terms of emissions. The old coal plants are replaced with modern units, often using natural gas. But the two countries’ investments in renewable energy are still secondary and we must not delude ourselves with figures resulting from facilities recently put into service.
A wind turbine requires four times more production capacity than a nuclear power plant in order to provide the same output. As for photovoltaics, the ratio is one to eight. We should add to this the fact that we have not found yet a reliable and economical way to store electricity, meaning that electricity is generated at times when we do not necessarily need it. This disrupts the network and the price system.
In France, wind turbines produced 16 TWh in 2014 and solar panels 5,5TWh. Meanwhile, the nuclear power delivered 416 TWh to the French and European consumers. France is exemplary in terms of CO2 emissions because of its nuclear power plants, not thanks to renewable energy. France produces 5 tonnes of emissions per capita whereas Germany produces twice that number notably because it has greatly developed renewable energy that needed coal plants. The situation will get worse as Germany has planned to close its last nuclear power plants. Renewable energy is not a panacea. Objectives should especially be better targeted. There are regions like Corsica or Overseas departments, where the conditions are met, since there is no natural gas or nuclear power there and we are not stingy with subsidies and tax breaks. Unfortunately, nothing happens there: in terms of wind turbines, these territories have barely reached the same number of facilities than Limousin. Regarding photovoltaics, there are more facilities in Alsace than in the Antilles…
If France is exemplary regarding CO2 emissions, it is not exemplary when it comes to fine particles emissions since Paris has known more and more frequently very serious episodes of fine particles that are harmful to public health. It is new and the origin of the problem is local. The city had never faced in the past such a situation and we cannot blame it on the Chinese or anyone else. The city’s policy for ten years has been specifically focused on reducing pollution. It is a major failure: the measures taken have had the exact opposite effect. False reasoning almost always leads to opposite results. For 20 years, the dogma to fight against inflation was the price control. This policy was failing, yet nobody was willing to change it, until a brave man, Pierre Bérégovoy overthrew the dogma and began the process of liberation. Competition was more effective than bureaucracy and this policy ended up being a success.
Although one must be careful with international comparisons, who would have said ten years ago that Paris would be one of the most polluted city? The city’s policy, based on false reasoning, has led to this ecological disaster. Its goal was to reduce the number of trips by car or truck. But this increased the duration of these trips as vehicles are stuck in traffic jam or stopped at red lights. Consequently, these vehicles release more particles due to their immobilization. In a time that promotes smartphone applications or connected watches, couldn’t we create intelligent lights that would automatically adjust to the traffic flow?
The decrease of surface parking lots (for the benefit of transporters of funds or charging stations), has forced residents, visitors or deliverymen to drive longer in search of free parking lots. Reducing the number of lanes or assigning them to public transit vehicles that underuse them has penalized the users and generated more traffic. The transformation of residential premises into shopping centres or offices has taken the inhabitants away from their workplace. What about free parking in case of fine particles episodes? But the city’s information device is insufficient and it is really impossible to know with certainty whether parking is free or not on a particular day, whereas officers are always ready to give you a fine.
And on top of it: one should mention the tax benefits granted to diesel. What would prevent the city and the neighbouring districts to be authorized by the State to implement a local tax that would reduce the gap between diesel and gasoline without penalizing our sympathetic farmers from Corrèze or Poitou? This would also provide these departments with new resources.
Exemplarity. This is France’s motto for COP 21. This should also apply to Paris.