IEA urges France to increase pace of transition

France has been told it needs to amend its current targets if it is to achieve its aims of a net zero energy future.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) has said the French government is facing crucial decisions about its future energy mix.

It has warned the current rate of deployment of low-carbon energy technologies and energy efficiency solutions in France is not fast enough for the government to meet its energy and climate targets. As such it has called for stronger policy efforts and increased investments, with a clear policy for its electricity supply to be put in place.

“France is approaching a crossroads, as key decisions on its future energy system need to be taken soon to ensure it can reach net zero emissions by 2050. By investing much more in energy efficiency, renewable energy and nuclear power, France can accelerate progress on its key energy and climate goals,” said Fatih Birol, the IEA executive director.

The organisation’s report said France has demonstrated “important leadership” in raising global climate ambitions. It has done so within the framework of the European Union and, most notably, in its leading role in the negotiations that resulted in the landmark Paris Agreement in 2015.

France was one of the first countries to enact a climate law, and in 2019, the government put into legislation the goal of reaching net zero emissions by 2050. France has promoted green finance and a green budgeting approach across government, aligning national expenditure and revenue processes with climate and other environmental goals. The government’s 2030 Investment Programme and its economic recovery plan are among the most ambitious globally in terms of clean energy transitions, with innovative funding schemes to encourage building retrofits and low-carbon transport.

“In 2022, the government of France will need to take important decisions to ensure the country gets on track to meet its 2050 net zero emissions goal, notably in terms of plans to modernise its nuclear power fleet,” The IEA said. “The government will also have to step up its clean energy ambitions and measures for the coming years across the entire economy to align with the EU-wide goal of reducing emissions by 55% by 2030.”

Half of France’s renewables output still comes from hydropower plants that were built decades ago said the report. The government is seeking to accelerate progress in solar and wind power by streamlining permits, promoting flagship initiatives, and better aligning regional and national ambitions. But these promising efforts risk being undermined without more sustained and consistent policies.

“The IEA peer review is very precious as it consists of an independent analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of our energy policy, especially in the context of the carbon neutrality by 2050 commitment,” said Barbara Pompili, France’s minister for the Ecological Transition. “This review comes in a crucial time frame, in particular to anticipate the French multi-annual Plan review preparation and the energy and climate programming act discussion in 2023. The IEA review confirms the orientations France has adopted, based on three pillars: strengthening energy efficiency, developing renewable energies and maintaining a nuclear electricity base.”

According to the IEA to maintain its low-carbon power sector, France needs to expand renewable energy and decide on the future of its ageing nuclear fleet, which in 2019 accounted for 71% of electricity production. Important work is underway. Power system operator RTE has tested several decarbonisation scenarios, supported by a dedicated study from the IEA on the technical challenges of integrating high shares of renewables, which can help inform the critical decisions on France electricity and energy future.

“In addition to a continued strong focus on policies that support a climate- and people-centred energy transition, the government also needs ongoing action to safeguard energy security as the nature of the risks evolve,” Birol said. “This involves stepping up support for research and development to drive innovation in emerging clean energy technologies so they’re ready for market in time. It also means developing measures to ensure the availability of critical minerals that are needed for key technologies like EV batteries and wind turbines. And it includes investing in energy infrastructure to make it resilient to more extreme weather and cyber threats – and compatible with new low-carbon energy sources.”

Half of France’s renewables output still comes from hydropower plants that were built decades ago said the report. The government is seeking to accelerate progress in solar and wind power by streamlining permits, promoting flagship initiatives, and better aligning regional and national ambitions. But these promising efforts risk being undermined without more sustained and consistent policies.

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