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Flag flying in the Paris Champs Elysee street in the evening
Flag flying in the Avenue des Champs-Élysées, Paris. Credit: extravagantni/iStock/Getty Images.
7 March 2017 7:36

French election 2017: Where the candidates stand on energy and climate change

Jocelyn Timperley

07.03.2017 | 7:36am
EU policyFrench election 2017: Where the candidates stand on energy and climate change

Update 24/4/2017: With the results from the first round of the French presidential election yesterday, 11 candidates were whittled down to two: Front National leader Marine Le Pen and En Marche! leader Emmanuel Macron. The second round to decide France’s next president will take place on the 7 May. See the grid and summaries below to compare the energy and climate policies of the two remaining candidates.

The French presidential elections are fast approaching with the first voting round set to be held on 23 April and the run-off between the top two candidates – if neither wins a majority – on 7 May.

Climate change as an issue has risen in importance in France over the past few years, particularly in light of the country’s key role in guiding the historical Paris Agreement into being in 2015. However, it has not featured strongly as an issue in the French elections thus far.

Carbon Brief takes a detailed look at what the three leading candidates have to say about climate change and energy, drawing on their manifestos and public statements.

Who’s who

Update 20/4/2017: This piece was written when only three likely candidates were in the running for the second round of the presidential election. Following large movements in the polls to see a fourth candidate, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, rise up the ratings, we have added a section on his environmental programme in the text below.

The odds are currently looking good for former economy minister and investment banker Emmanuel Macron, who launched his presidential bid back in November 2016 under his own recently launched “progressive” party En Marche! (On The Move!).

Marine Le Pen, the right-wing Front National (FN) leader who came third in the last French election in 2012, is also a prominent candidate.

Meanwhile, Republican party nominee François Fillon, who served as prime minister of France from 2007 to 2012 under former president Nicolas Sarkozy, is currently continuing in the race despite being embroiled in a scandal over allegations that members of his family were paid public money for fictitious jobs.

Carbon Brief trawled the candidates manifestos and public statements for climate and energy content and translated them into English. The results are summarised in the interactive grid, below. You can view the results by topic or by candidate and follow the links to source material. If no link is provided, the statement comes from the candidate’s manifesto.

Macron pledges a steady move to renewable energy, including an aim to double France’s wind and solar capacity by 2022, compared to today’s levels. As well as promising to ban all shale gas exploration in France, Macron says he will grant “no new hydrocarbon exploration permits”, as well as closing all coal power stations in France within five years (a year earlier than the current target). He will keep France’s current target to reduce nuclear power’s share of the French energy mix from 75% today to 50% in 2025.

He also pledges to “integrate the ecological cost” into the price of carbon in France by increasing the carbon tax to €100 per tonne of CO2 in 2030 (from an earlier version of his manifesto, this appears to be a proposed national measure). He also promises to make implementation of the Paris Agreement a priority of his international agenda.

The programme also contains one particularly eye-catching proposal: a commitment to pursue trade sanctions at the European level against countries that do not respect the environmental clauses of trade agreements with the European Union.

Macron specifically mentions President Trump on this, saying “faced with the whims of the new American president, France will have to weigh in particular so that Europe ensures the United States faces its responsibilities.” Macron has previously warned that Trump would be making a “grave mistake” if he went back on his predecessor’s commitments on climate change.

Intriguingly, in a previous version of his environmental programme, Macron said the EU should impose sanctions on countries which pull out of the Paris Agreement. However, this appears to have now been softened to apply only to the environmental clauses of trade treaties.

Marine Le Pen

Le Pen includes a section on France’s environment and energy transition in her 144-point presidential plan released in early February. Le Pen has previously positioned herself as somewhat of an environmental advocate, contrasting with her climate skeptic father by launching a “New Ecology” movement in 2014 – though this was still founded on a platform of opposition to international climate talks.

While relatively sparse, the seven proposals in the environment section include a complete ban on wind power, but a pledge to “massively develop” other renewables including solar and biogas using “intelligent protectionism” and “economic patriotism”. There is no explanation for what these terms might mean.

She also vows to ban the exploitation of shale gas as long as “satisfactory environmental, safety and health conditions” are not being met.

Under her leadership, the state would support research and development in a French hydrogen industry (which she specifically calls a “clean energy”) in order to reduce dependence on oil, she says. She also wants to maintain and expand nuclear power.

She is in favour of products being consumed close to where they are produced. She opposes free-trade treaties, such as the transatlantic free-trade area TAFTA and the EU-Canada agreement CETA, writing in her manifesto that “the true environmentalism is to produce and consume as closely as possible and recycle on site”.

She says she will ban the import and sale of products from abroad which do not comply with the standards imposed on French producers.

François Fillon

Fillon says in his environment and energy transition programme that climate change has become “a major issue for our planet”. He appears to favour market mechanisms to combat it and wants to focus efforts on setting up a carbon floor price mechanism in Europe. For this to be effective, he says, the price will have to be set to at least €30 per tonne.

Although he supports renewables, he opposes subsidies as being too expensive and instead wants to see them developed by the “hand of the market”. He would support renewable energy with a tax credit, funded using revenues from his carbon floor price. He would also encourage private investment in renewables and says he will favour competitive large-scale renewables projects.

He opposes France’s Energy Transition law target for reducing the share of nuclear energy in the power mix, which he calls a “dogmatic choice” which is “untenable and contrary to the general interest”. Instead, he wants to see the lifetime of existing nuclear plants extended. Meanwhile, he aims to eliminate electricity generation from fossil fuels by setting a target of close to 0% as soon as possible.

Update 20/4/2017: Jean-Luc Mélenchon

Polls for the presidential election have seen far-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who split with the Socialist Party back in 2008, overtaking official Socialist Party candidate Benoit Hamon in recent weeks.

Mélenchon’s programme warns that climate change “threatens to destroy the only ecosystem compatible with human life” and proposes using “ecological planning” to change the way people produce, exchange and consume. He wants ecological sustainability – or, as he calls it, the “green rule” – to be one of the tenets of a new constitution

His manifesto goes into significant detail on environmental topics. It pledges to move France to 100% renewable energy by 2050 and away from nuclear power. It also includes proposals orientated towards local production, such as a new tax on the French border, which would incorporate the ecological cost of imported products. It aims to ensure at least 700,000 French homes are insulated per year and to make public transport more environmentally friendly.

The programme also promises to move away from factory farms in favour of a local and organic approach, and includes a pledge to reduce the proportion of animal proteins in diets in favour of vegetable proteins.

Mélenchon’s strong scepticism of the financial sector stretches to the environmental sphere, too, marked by his calls for a “definancialisation” of the economy to enable an ecological transition. He also wants to renegotiate the European Union treaties, and, if this fails, plans to stop France’s contribution to the EU budget, among other measures.

Fillon replacement?

Update 20/4/2017: This piece was written during speculation Fillon could be replaced by another Republican party nominee; it is now clear this will not happen.

Alain Juppé, who served as prime minister in the mid-90s under former president Jacques Chirac, has been touted as the favourite to take over the Republican party’s nomination, if Fillon were to step down. While he doesn’t have a manifesto, he said last year that he is “convinced that human activity bears a heavy share of responsibility in climate change”, adding that “denying it is denying reality”.

However, earlier this week, his candidacy looked far less likely after he said he would not run.

The other potential candidate to replace Fillon is François Baroin, who was previously finance minister and is a long-time ally of Jacques Chirac. As mayor of Troyes he has previously addressed the need for the state to take responsibility for protecting people from climate risks, rather than regional levels of government.

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