Editorial Septembre 2012


Held after the 2007 presidential elections, the dialogue of the “Grenelle de l’Environnement” between the government, employers, trade unions, local authorities and environmental associations has enabled France to catch up vis-à-vis the most advanced countries in the areas of climate change, biodiversity and environmental and health risks. The laws Grenelle 1 and Grenelle 2 of 2009 and 2010 established the new national policy which has resulted in progress in all three areas.

What is the situation following the 2012 presidential elections and the change of political direction of the country? The Paris Environmental Conference on 14 and 15 September 2012 which brought together the same partners as those of the “Grenelle de l’Environnement”, as well as representatives of the Parliament, provided some of the first answers.

In the Paris Environmental Conference, which was based on a very interesting quantitative assessment of “Grenelle de l’Environnement”, the ecological crisis was not presented as a phenomenon in itself but as one of the dimensions of the ongoing global crisis, which we believe has the same gravity as the 1929 crisis. The strategy for recovering from the crisis has not only financial, economic and social dimensions but also an ecological one, and this strategy should refer to a new development model.

The Paris Environmental Conference perspective is what is called the “ecological and energy transition” of the country. It is necessary to define the objective of such a transition; what is the new development model? The Swiss have defined a vision with the exciting concept of the “2000-watt Society“, which was the subject of votes in several cantons. What is the French vision?

The task is certainly challenging because, unlike some who advocate a harmonious and natural conception of sustainable development, we believe instead that the discussion on the definition of the new development model will be difficult, based on the balance of power between considerable financial and technical interests. The definition of a medium-term vision is nonetheless essential.

At the end of the Paris Environmental Conference, a roadmap concerning five action fields was published. .

The first action field is the energy transition marked by a commitment to reduce the share of nuclear energy in electricity production from 75% to 50% by 2025, but also by the symbol of the decommissioning of a first nuclear plant in 2016 and the refusal to develop shale gas extraction, because of the environmental consequences of hydraulic fracturing.

To specify the energy transition, France will propose that Europe will be committed, after the goal of a 20% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 compared to 1990, on targets of a 40% reduction in 2030 and a 60% reduction in 2040.

The second field relates to an ambitious policy concerning biodiversity, including the creation of a National Biodiversity Agency, on the model of the French National Energy Agency.

The third action field concerns the link between environment and health. The health consequences of environmental degradation are becoming better known and need to be better controlled.

The fourth field concerns the critical issue of funding and environmental taxation, with the willingness to create a price signal through higher environmental taxes.

The fifth field is environmental governance, including an increase of the role of regions.

In the real estate and construction sector, the key measure of the Paris Environmental Conference was the announcement of the improvement of energy standards of one million dwellings per year, with 500,000 new homes with low energy consumption and 500,000 units renovated to improve energy efficiency. This goal is particularly ambitious.

The two main obstacles to achieving such objectives are funding and skills.

In new construction, French real estate and construction players have shown their ability to quickly apply on a large scale and with cost control, the “Low Consumption Building Effinergie®” label, which anticipates the 2012 regulation dividing by three the average consumption of a building as compared with the 2005 regulation.

This is an amazing performance that few people could imagine 5 years ago.

But for refurbisment of the existing stock, if funding is found, the construction players are not currently ready. The number of professionals having got “Eco Artisans” label, promoted by the French Building Craftsmen Association, or “Energy Performance Professionals” label, developed by the French National Building Federation, is very low.

To move from an obligation of means to an obligation of results, to get a comprehensive view of the thermal performance of a dwelling, to be concerned not only by works but also by operation after renovation, to concentrate on the user because the user has a great impact on the actual energy consumption; these are the major challenges for building players in the coming months for the renovation of housing stock. Similar issues concern tertiary stock, both in the private and public sectors.

There is need for an ambitious Building Plan and it was good that the same leader, Mr Philippe Pelletier, a lawyer, was reappointed as Chairman of the “Sustainable Building Plan”, the new name of the Grenelle Building Plan. This Plan will be conducted in close partnership with local authorities as indicated in the mission letter of Mr Pelletier, signed by Mrs Cecile Duflot, the Minister for The Equality of Territories and Housing and Mrs Delphine Batho, the Minister for Ecology, Sustainable Development and Energy.