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What France’s hung parliament means for climate policy

A now hung parliament in France is likely to complicate the country’s efforts to address climate change and its path to net zero.

French elections have had Europe on the edge of its seat.

President Emmanuel Macron called upon the snap elections after the centrist alliance suffered a heavy defeat to the far-right party National Rally (RN) in the European Parliament elections, hoping such a move would catch RN off guard and prevent the rise of the far-right.

The first round on June 30 saw RN winning around 33 percent of the vote, putting Macron’s strategy in jeopardy. However, in a surprising turn, the far-left New Popular Front (NFP) emerged as the largest bloc after the second round on July 7, stemming concern about a right-wing-dominated government.

The election resulted in a hung parliament, with no bloc securing a majority. The NFP won 182 seats, short of the 289 needed, leading to political gridlock and necessitating complex negotiations to form a stable government.

Throughout the election, each party’s campaign focus differed widely – even when it came to climate action. The differing views on the environment have sparked a mix of shock and nihilism.

What climate commitments were made?

Climate action was not a major focus in the recent French elections. Although the NFP and the centrist Ensemble coalition included climate commitments in their manifestos, the main issues were inflation, energy bills, and immigration.

NFP pledged to implement a plan to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 and ban imports that do not respect the nation’s environmental standards. Additionally, they committed themselves to developing the domestic industry to end France’s dependence on international markets for sectors such as EVs and solar panels.

As for the Centrist coalition, they targeted a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 55 percent compared to 1990 levels by 2030, in line with the EU’s Green Deal targets.

Members also argued that ecology is one of the ‘challenges of a generation’ facing the country. On top of that, they plan to expand the nuclear industry creating 200,000 industrial jobs and 400 additional factories by 2027.

RN, which gained significantly in the European elections, has criticized environmental policies. Its manifesto pledges an ecology of ‘common sense,’ arguing that environmental standards hurt economic growth. RN has called the EU’s Green Deal a ‘punitive ecology’ tool and vowed to dismantle it if elected.

A difficult path to net zero

With no single party or coalition holding a majority in the National Assembly, it will be difficult to pass and implement ambitious climate legislation. The various political factions will need to negotiate and compromise, potentially leading to watered-down policies.

Moreover, with climate change not being a vital component of the election, the priority of the French government will falter into its other industries. As such, it would not effectively dedicate the resources needed to meet the nation’s emissions reduction targets.

Not to mention, RN heavily opposes fossil fuel reduction policies; pledging to lower VAT on energy products like fuel, electricity, and heating oil.

In a parliament of uncertainty, the party’s agenda could very easily pull back those of the far-left and the centrists, thereby hindering France’s climate goals, which depend on expanding renewable energy sources.

France’s current climate progress

As one of the EU’s largest emitters, France plays a crucial role in the bloc’s emissions reduction efforts. Despite reducing emissions by around 29 percent since 1990, largely due to its reliance on low-carbon nuclear power, France is currently falling short of its Paris Agreement targets.

The nation has implemented policies to limit emissions, promote renewable energy, and improve energy efficiency, but these efforts have not yet translated into significant emissions reductions. Its shortcomings are not just to be attributed to its reliance on fossil fuels but also its high dependence on nuclear power.

About 70 percent of France’s electricity stems from nuclear energy but its nuclear fleet has faced significant challenges in recent years.

In 2022, nuclear output fell to 282 TWh, well below the 10-year average of 395 TWh, due to reactor outages, repairs, and inspections. Focusing primarily on nuclear power has slowed France’s development of renewable energy sources.

In 2022, wind and solar provided just 13 percent of France’s electricity, which is far less than nuclear power. As such, diversifying the energy mix could improve reliability and help meet climate goals.

Overall, the hung parliament in France is unlikely to accelerate the country’s climate action efforts and may make progress more difficult.

With differing views on such a profound matter, only a consensus on the reality of climate change could steer the nation forward in achieving its goal of net zero by 2050.