Editorial September 2015


After a year of sometimes heated debate in French Parliament, law n° 2015-992 on “Energy transition for green growth” was enacted on August 17, 2015. It is a very important step on the long road to energy transition from fossil and fissile energies towards renewable energies.

1 / This law is a great strategic law, as important as the laws n° 2009-967 of 3 August 2009 and n°2010-788 of 12 July 2010, called “Grenelle[1] laws” 1 and 2, which founded the French policy on environment and sustainable development. It updates, clarifies and amplifies law n°2005-781 of 13 July 2005 laying down guidelines for the energy policy program.

The law defines the French strategy for low carbon, resources and air pollution for 2050, specifying the 2020 and 2030 steps. It reflects the shift in carbon policy of a country that was too focused on energy, in contrast to states such as the UK, Scandinavian countries or California.

The law is made up of eight parts. The first part sets objectives. The second and third parts specify the scope of transformation of two sectors with particularly high CO2 emissions: construction and transport. The fourth part deals with the circular economy which is “to outdo the linear economic model of extracting, producing, consuming and discarding, calling for a sober and responsible consumption of natural resources and primary commodities”. The parts 5, 6 and 7 organize the development of renewable energy, limitation and safety of nuclear energy, the operation of networks and markets. Part 8 specifies steering and implementation of the policy, under the responsibility of the regions and urban agglomerations.

2 / It is an ambitious law that reinforces the low carbon EU strategy. Before the Paris Conference on Climate in December 2015, Europe has set the most ambitious low-carbon policy, compared to those implemented by the United States, China or India, even if those countries are now specifying higher objectives. The law puts France among the most advanced European countries.

The goals are ambitious: to divide emissions of greenhouse gases by four between 1990 and 2050, with a decline of 40% by 2030, to reduce final energy consumption by 50% in 2050 compared to 2012 with a reduction of 20% by 2030, to reduce primary energy consumption of fossil fuels by 30% by 2030, to increase the share of renewable energies in final energy consumption to 32% in 2030, with an interim target of 23 % in 2020 (compared to 14% today), to limit the share of nuclear in electricity production to 50% in 2025 (compared to 75% today). Other objectives relate to a sharp decrease in the production of waste and air pollution.

Moreover, the law sends a strong signal to investors by amplifying the current carbon tax to achieve a value of a tonne of carbon of 56 € in 2020 and 100 € in 2030.

For real estate and construction, the prospect is “to have a stock where all buildings are renovated to the “low consumption building” standards or similar by 2050 “, with the will to reduce energy consumption in the non-residential portfolio by at least 60% between 2010 and 2050 and to renovate 500,000 homes a year from 2017.

All dwellings which consume more than 330 kWh of primary energy per year and per m² will have to be renovated by 2025. Owners never renovate their buildings or their homes purely for energy reasons, but in the case of significant works (facelift, roof repair, construction of new rooms), an energy renovation will be “embedded” within the work.

Furthermore, in 2020, 70% of construction and public works waste should be recycled for use as materials.

3 / It is a law of motion. It defines a path for 35 years. It includes the means to monitor the achievement of objectives. Every 5 years, reviews of the implementation of low-carbon strategy and circular economy will be discussed in Parliament. The implementation of the National Waste Prevention Plan and the National Plan to reduce Air Pollution will be regularly assessed.

The law does not cover all the fields, it plans reports discussed in Parliament to engage other parts of the policy. For example, a report will be made on the issue of bonuses and penalties for landlords based on the energy performance of their property, another report will concern a comprehensive aid for buildings undergoing a complete project renovation, with evaluation of the energy performance of the works.

The law leaves the way open to experimentation, particularly in the context of the implementation of Air-Energy-Climate Plans by local authorities. It plans a strengthening of research and innovation.

4 / But the law is only a framework. The driving force behind the action is on the field in the articulation of territories, companies and citizens.

The region will play a strategic role. As stated by law, the region “constitutes the relevant level for coordinating studies, disseminating information and promoting actions for energy efficiency.” It “… promotes the establishment of regional platforms for energy renovation.” It is “the guarantor of a good match between the supply of training … and business needs.” The issue of professional skills is indeed central in the device.

The implementation is controlled by urban agglomerations, qualified by law as “coordinators of the energy transition.”

The law aims to give citizens, firms and territories “power to act together”. That is actually the key to the success of the energy transition.

The law is only a framework. The challenge is the mobilization of territories based on cooperation between local politicians, firms and citizens.

The movement is underway in several French regions: Rhône-Alpes, Nord-Pas de Calais, Alsace, Aquitaine, Bretagne, Centre, Franche-Comté, Basse-Normandie. In other regions, little is done or the action is limited to formal plans.

Regional dynamism or not, herein lies the key to the success of the energy transition.

[1] « Grenelle negotiations » between government, local authorities, employers, trade unions and non-governmental associations defined in 2007 the new French environmental national policy.  Grenelle Street is the street in Paris where the Ministry of Labour is located, where the “Grenelle negotiations” were held between government, employers and trade unions after the May 1968 workers’ and students’ general strike.