French ecology minister lays out agenda for 2024

2024 will be a busy year for French green policy, according to the broad outlines of the agenda presented by Ecological Transition Minister Christophe Béchu on Wednesday (31 January).

Read the original French story here.

Béchu, whose portfolio was expanded to include matters such as nuclear safety and energy efficiency following a government reshuffle in January, is preparing for a busy year.

The 49-year-old is now is now also responsible for “40% of the energy portfolio”, according to industry sources.

On all these issues, as on others, the course of action for 2024 is the same as the one set by Prime Minister Gabriel Attal: “simplify, simplify, simplify”.

On the international front, Béchu will represent France at the COP16 biodiversity summit in Colombia and the COP29 climate summit in Azerbaijan.

He will also participate in the negotiations on an international treaty against plastic pollution while working in France to reduce plastic consumption in the 50 most plastic-dependent industries.

In Paris and the rest of France, the minister wants to make 2024 “the year of adaptation” to climate change.

“In a few weeks’ time, we will publish for public consultation the French National Adaptation Plan to Climate Change (PNACC 3), which must be followed to prepare, if necessary, for a +4°C France in 2100, as the current global warming trajectory suggests,” he said.

As part of this, “we will review public and private insurance mechanisms to better compensate our fellow citizens and ensure the overall balance of the system.”

At a time of turmoil for farmers, Béchu made it clear on Thursday (1 February) during the prime minister’s announcements on agriculture that the sector would be included in his adaptation plan through the issue of water.

Soils and land use

“There is no agriculture without water, but there is no agriculture without land,” Béchu also said, introducing the issue of agricultural land as part of the policy to reduce the artificialisation of soils.

The “Net-Zero Artificialisation” law, which France adopted in July 2023, aims to halt urban sprawl and reduce its pressure on biodiversity, but Béchu stressed that the sensitive issue of agricultural land will be given special attention.

“We undoubtedly need to go further to see how we can better reconcile agricultural and urban planning documents,” he said, adding that he would open a “workshop” on the subject.

Béchu also said the government would issue a decree to speed up “abusive” legal proceedings against agricultural facilities.

Green industry, housing and mobility

Together with Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire, Béchu will also announce “in a few days” the first major projects of national interest, including the so-called “gigafactories”, which will benefit from streamlined site selection procedures, before a full list is announced in March.

Prime Minister Gabriel Attal has also said that a second “green industry” law will be presented before the end of the year.

With regard to the housing sector, responsible for 15-20% of France’s greenhouse gas emissions, Béchu announced his intention to “make energy renovations in this sector more flexible” in order to speed up the process.

To this end, he will announce in mid-February a simplification of the Energy Performance Diagnostic (DPE) and access to renovation grants through the MaPrimeRénov scheme, which provides financial support to households that carry out environmentally-friendly renovations.

While the DPE is the key indicator for measuring a home’s energy consumption, its reliability has recently been questioned.

To make home renovations more affordable, Béchu said he wanted to “think about innovative fiscal and financial instruments” such as green loans and mortgage models.

The minister will also present measures to combat precariousness and promote social housing, just as the Abbé Pierre Foundation presented its report on inadequate housing for 2024 on Thursday.

In 2022, more than 863,000 interventions were carried out for unpaid electricity and gas bills, 40% more than the average for the previous seven years, according to the French report.

In terms of mobility, Béchu took stock of a measure introduced last year to provide a monthly subsidy of €100 for those who lease electric vehicles, saying the measure has been applied to 25,000 leases since its launch.

On the rail front, Béchu wants to make progress on night trains, the development of urban services and the redevelopment of SNCF Freight.

“Ecological civic services” for young people

In his announcements, Béchu also unveiled plans to create “ecological civic services” for 50,000 young people by the end of President Emmanuel Macron’s second term, in 2027.

Aimed at raising environmental awareness among young people and society at large, these “ecological civic services” would include social measures as well as measures to simplify legislation.

This is in line with the approach taken by the government in recent months to move away from ‘technocratic’ rhetoric in order to keep the far-right Rassemblment National party at bay.

Andreas Ruedinger, a researcher on ecological transition policy at the IDDRI institute, told Euractiv that this was particularly obvious when Macron expressed his desire to “take back control of electricity prices” in September 2023.

[Edited by Frédéric Simon/Zoran Radosavljevic]


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