The very heavy rains which recently happened in the South-East of France have been interpreted, as in every meteorological event, as being the consequence of climate warming. That has contributed to an increased mobilization in favor of environment. They have also been at the origin of power cuts which have, in some cases, last several days, heavily affecting the daily life of habitants. Two lessons can be got from these events.
There is first the night and day commitment of the teams, who are in charge of putting back in activity networks and taking care of their good working. It has been possible, once more, to appreciate their role and the price which must be paid to their knowledge and their availability. These employees benefit from a status and a pension regime more favorable than for other workers. The government will to put in question this status and these benefits which are a part of the republican pact regarding public services adopted after the Second World War is at the origin of the major social unrest France is confronted with today. There is also the being aware of the importance, and even the absolute priority, which must be done to the power supply safety for household and enterprises.
This conviction according to which it is necessary, in order to fight climate warming, is progressing but we see a regression of the proposed solutions. The two main grounds for action are the power mix and the level of energy consumption. Regarding power, the message, and even the effective priority, are focused on the realization of solar and wind power production capacities. But these sources are intermittent and cannot guarantee power supply safety. No government can make the miss on that crucial issue. So there are only two options, to make progress in power storage, but the technologies will not be operational before very long time, and urgency is there, or the keeping of traditional power production techniques. It is there that it is necessary to act and where the clearest contradiction appears between the ecologist message and the efficiency.
Trough the adoption of very ambitious objectives, like the end of fossil fuels, but with very long term agendas, 2040 or even 2050, the ecologist message has, as a main consequence, to eliminate efficient measures corresponding to the adopted objectives with a rapid impact. This message is, in fact, responsible for the emissions increase and the aggravation of the climate situation. The only way to make them going down is to close coal power plants and to replace them by natural gas power plants. Construction delays are much shorter than for nuclear power plants and, especially, these ones are reserved to the few countries which master the technology. It must be added that, on the economic ground, it is highly justified by the abundance of the resource which allows a very competitive price.
Results are undisputable. It is through that the U.S. has succeeded in making their CO2 emissions fall by 8% between 2010 and 2018. This year 57 coal power plants will be closed in the country. In China, the fast rise of natural gas utilization has allowed to slow the emissions increase provoked by the use of coal, even if the country stays, by large, the most important consumer. Major Chinese utilities are still building coal power plants but their utilization rate weakens every year and it will be inferior to 50% this year. The first gas pipe line from Siberia has just been officially opened and it will supply the North of the country and will make coal consumption falling where it is still very high. In Europe, the completion of Nordstream 2 gas pipe line linking the new Russian fields to Europe will allow diversifying Germany supply and will incite the country to get out more quickly from its dependence to coal. The country will at last fulfill the emission reduction objectives to which it committed itself. The very high share of solar and wind in its power mix (24%), i.e. three or four times more than China, U.S. and France, is not enough to offset the consequences of its coal dependence.
The message about “the end of fossil fuels” or the “carbon neutrality” at the 2050 horizon is more the product of ecologist communication than an action in favor of environment, which, due to that, it contributes to weaken.
The other way to stabilize emissions is the reduction or in emerging countries, the stabilization of energy consumption. Two sectors are essential, transportation and housing. But the results in these two domains can only be very slow because the policy targets either a whole (homes) or a fleet (car, truck) when they are replaced but whose life duration frequently exceeds twenty years. In France, despite the obvious benefits of homes isolation, results are disappointing because the State has not known to find adapted incites to the different forms of occupation: owner, co-owner or tenant. It has also looked for two objectives in the same time, redistribution and energy consumption reduction which has lead it to limit subventions according to household revenue levels. Very few families decided to engage costly work despite the offered incites because they were already confronted with the reimbursement of their loans or with the low level of their revenues. It must not being naïve. This resources conditions, presented by the Government as a solidarity one were also a good method for Bercy to limit expenditures. The maneuver has been successful.
The same contradictions are there in the transportation sector. Priority given to electric vehicles, in the investments of carmakers as in the new norms prepared by Brussels, is a paradox as soon as the power production, indispensable to produce and to charge batteries, emits, as in Germany, so much CO2. Atop of that, the fleet replacement will be as slow as vehicles don’t fit, as today, client expectations regarding autonomy and charging duration. Power grids will also have to be adapted to demand peaks, as during holiday departure days and power capacities available. Here again it is unlikely that these ones will be supplied by renewable. So the impact on greenhouse gas emissions of the move toward electric vehicles for household will be not only very slow but also very limited.
It would be much more consistent with the expected results to concentrate the action on trucks or professional vehicles about which neither autonomy nor charging time are obstacles and on the development of transportation public services. Instead of that, in France, the market of bus, which use diesel, has been liberalized to offer a competition against SNCF and, as in the case of energy public services, the social pact of their employees is being put into question.
The ecologist message with its excess and the liberal logic which prevails against the existing models in the transportation and energy public services, constitute, in France, a break to a real energy transition which is the necessary condition to protect our environment and to contribute to the objectives about the fight against climate warming in the world.