Was I missing something? When I read the Bali Roadmap document, I was not quite sure what to make of it. Should I rejoice? After all, 190 countries had agreed and signed a pact. The United States’ last minute turnaround was celebrated as a victory of diplomacy, and I joined the chorus of satisfied voices. Why, then, was I left with a feeling of unease? Had we been sold of bill of goods? Turns out, I was wise to follow my feelings. Scientists and environmental experts quickly rallied to denounce the Bali Pact as a bad joke played on the planet.
Yesterday, Thomas Friedman, in turn, expressed his concerns in ‘What Was That All About?’:
‘If you need an environmental expert to explain it (global climate agreements) to you, it’s not real. I needed 10 experts to explain to me the Bali Climate agreement – and I was there! I’m still not quite sure what it adds up to. I’m not opposed to forging a regime with 190 countries for reducing carbon emissions, but my gut tells me that both the North and South Poles will melt before e get it to work.’ . . .
‘whatever the U. S. is now doing to address the global warming challenge, it is not transformational. It is an incremental approach to a scale problem that can only be solved by triggering massive innovation in clan power. And without a price signal – a carbon tax or cap-and-trade system – to make it profitable to invest enormous sums, long term, in new clean technologies, it will not happen at scale.’ . . .
‘” This is a problem of economic transformation, not environmental regulation,” said Glenn Prickett, senior vice president at Conservation International . . . “The transformation needed will require far more than just passing one law or signing one treaty. It will require the same level of focus and initiative that the Bush administration is devoting to the war on terror. No political leader in the U.S. is approaching this issue yet with anywhere near the seriousness required.”
So I still don’t know what Bali was about, but I do know that it was incremental, not transformational — and incrementalism, when it comes to clean energy, is just a hobby.’
That’s right, what is called for. is a transformation of our whole country, from top to bottom, fast. A paradigm shift, where carbon emissions take center stage. Not small steps. Being French, I always have an ear for what goes on in my native country. It is my belief that the U. S. leadership has a lot to learn from its French counterparts. For those of you who speak French, here is a video of President Nicolas Sarkozy delivering his speech, on the Grenelle Environment Agreement. The video also includes a few words from Al Gore (in English).
Here are some excepts from the transcript of President Nicolas Sarkozy’s speech – I highly recommend your read the entire speech, as it is quite beautiful, in addition to being a remarkable piece of policy writing – :
‘CARBON COST/NON-ECOLOGICAL PROSPECTS/TRANSPORT
First principle: the climate cost, the “carbon cost” will be taken into account from now on in all major public projects, in all public decisions. The biodiversity cost will be taken into account in all public decisions. To be clear, a project with an excessive environmental cost will be rejected.
Second principle, we will reverse the burden of proof. Ecological solutions will no longer be required to prove their benefits. Instead, non-ecological projects will be required to prove that they could not be carried out differently. Proof will be required of so-called non-ecological decisions that they were the last resort. This is a complete revolution in this country’s method of governance and we will be applying this principle to transport policy immediately. The Grenelle proposes a break with the past and I adopt that proposal as my own. In the effort to catch up in transport systems, priority will no longer be given to road construction but to other modes.
We will also apply this principle to our waste management policy. Priority will now be given to avoiding waste, rather than merely treating it. We will adopt every proposal that enables us to prohibit or tax unnecessary waste such as excessive packaging. Priority will no longer be given to incineration but to recycling. Proof will be required of every new incinerator project that it is a last resort. There will be no more incinerators without permanent and transparent monitoring of pollution emitted. There will be no more incinerator projects that do not generate energy from waste incineration.
POLICY OF TRUTH/PRECAUTIONARY PRINCIPLE/ACCOUNTABILITY
We will create a right to total transparency of environmental information and expertise. All the data, without exception, including nuclear and GMO data, can from now on be disclosed. The only limits will be protection of privacy – much needs to be done here –, national security and industrial secrets.
This policy of truth is a policy of responsibility. No one must be able to say, henceforth, that he or she did not know. We are all accountable for our actions. And this brings me back to the precautionary principle. To suggest that it should be abolished because it hampers action demonstrates, in my view, a major misapprehension. The precautionary principle is not a principle based on inaction. It is a principle based on action. It is a principle based on action and expertise aimed at reducing uncertainty. It is a principle based on vigilance and transparency. It must therefore be interpreted as a principle based on responsibility. Responsibility is one of the values on which I focused during the election campaign.
I also wish to reopen the debate on responsibility and shoulder my own responsibility. Those who pollute a river for years, who design and sell a chemical or create a new genetically modified product must be accountable for their actions, even many years later, if a disaster occurs. And together with Europe we are going to remove the legal barriers to prosecuting polluters, wherever they are. It is not acceptable for a parent company to escape accountability for environmental violations committed by its subsidiaries. It is not acceptable for the principle of limited liability to be used as an excuse for unlimited immunity. When a company controls a subsidiary, it must consider itself liable for ecological disasters caused by that subsidiary. One cannot be liable in the morning and immune from liability in the afternoon. At any rate that will not be the policy in France.
In compliance with the precautionary principle, I call for the commercial production of pest-resistant GMOs to be suspended pending the conclusions of an investigation to be carried out by a new body, to be created before the end of the year in close coordination with you – the Grenelle – and the European Commission. Here, too, I am shouldering my responsibilities. We will comply with our commitments.
And the proof of this commitment, José Manuel, is that I undertake to ensure that France adopts legislation transposing the relevant Directive in the spring of 2008. But I cannot be guilty of inconsistency, and there is a precautionary principle. There are pest-resistant GMOs, and I want to suspend their production in order to comply with the precautionary principle. Meanwhile, France is playing her role in Europe. France is in no way unaware of her obligations. We will transpose the Directive and we will discuss it together. The Grenelle has set out new principles governing GMO research and production. There is the transparency principle. There is the right to produce with or without GMOs. There is the obligation to prove the health and environmental benefits of GMOs. Jean-Louis will include these principles in the Bill transposing the directive. And at least there will be one rule, transparency. Each party will assume its responsibility.
The suspension of the commercial production of pest-resistant GMOs does not mean – let me be clear about this – that we should condemn all GMOs and in particular future GMOs. We must accelerate research. I do not accept the destruction of the research plots. What we are proposing is in reality a return to democracy: debate, transparency, decisions based exclusively on the public interest and not just on commercial interest, responsibility; and in return, everyone will come back to democratic procedures and the rule of law: debate and controversy, not abuses and violence. And I will never be persuaded that it is normal to violate private property. Let me say that I respect the view of those who disagree with me, but I will tell them quite frankly that the sincere commitment of the government also contains principles that are important to us.
In the same spirit, let me say a word about the nuclear issue to show that it is possible to have a policy of truth and overcome problems. The idea that we can meet the climate challenge, our primary challenge, in France without nuclear energy is an illusion. Today we have no choice, unless we give up growth. This is the reality that I consistently defended before the elections and afterwards.
But this in no way means that nuclear technology must be the only solution to the climate challenge. Certainly not. Our first priority – and this is one of the Grenelle’s conclusions – is to reduce our energy requirements. The goal is to improve our energy efficiency by 20% between now and 2020. And our second priority is to achieve the objective of generating over 95% of our electrical energy without impacting the climate, that is, without using carbon. This is as I see it the only objective that will enable us to face up to climate challenges.
We have nuclear energy. I do not wish to build further nuclear sites, but I know that we must not give up this energy. However, I will take on board the principles that you propose, particularly the principle of transparency.
Just as we have the national nuclear program, which was launched in 1974 with the goal of reducing our energy dependence, I want us to undertake a national renewable energy program with the same ambition. Why contrast renewables with nuclear, when everyone knows we need both? We want France to become the leader in renewables, over and above, José Manuel, the European objective of 20% of our energy consumption by 2020.
Nevertheless, I am against a form of hasty action that would ultimately damage the environment. Wind turbines, yes, but we should start by building them in brownfield areas away from our emblematic sites. Frankly when I fly over a number of European countries what I see does not recommend wind energy. We must also revisit our policy of supporting biofuels in future, without calling into question the commitments made. I want priority to be given the development of second-generation biofuels, which better address both the environmental challenge and the food challenge.
And we are going to give priority to areas where the concept of energy independence makes sense. Corsica, which should be energy independent, comes to mind. Energy independence is very important. And imagine what can be done for Corsica and for our overseas departments and territorial units. And I am announcing that in 2008 we will be initiating the Reunion 2030 program. We can truly – the Minister of the Interior will agree – give these territories the opportunity to be research laboratories for renewable energies.
In the same spirit of efficiency, the government will work with Michel Barnier to initiate a major energy autonomy plan for farms.
There will therefore be a reduction of the share of nuclear power in our energy consumption, and there will be a reduction of the share of “carbon-based” energies that are harmful for the climate. We will continue our research on nuclear energy and we will launch a renewable energy development plan. Why choose between them when we need both?
ENVIRONMENTAL POLICY/INVESTMENT/“MARSHALL PLAN”
I will say this: environmental policy is investment policy.
To say that ecological policy amounts to “a step back” is a sham. The greatest pollution is observed at least as much in the rich countries as in the poor countries. The greatest climate aggressors are both rich countries and poor countries. And let us be realistic. There is no point in attempting to convince the developing countries that they must remain forever poor because they are not allowed to grow. There is no point in trying to convince the French that they should live with shortages for the sake of the well-being of future generations.
The goal is to carry out massive investments to pave the way for tomorrow’s growth. We will therefore be adopting a major national sustainable development program.
This is what Vice-President Gore is proposing. He is calling for a “Marshall Plan” for France and for the planet. It succeeded in 1947 and it must succeed today. Sir Nicholas Stern has assessed the investment needed at 1% of GDP. I remind you that the Marshall Plan, at the time, accounted for 2% of GDP. Who, today, disputes the fact that the Marshall Plan made the 30-year post-war boom possible?
The solution does not lie in increased public spending and taxation. We will succeed through investment. First we will invest in research, in technological progress, in changing behavior, in innovation and inventiveness. We will earmark €1 billion over a four-year period for the energies and the engines of the future, for biodiversity and for environmental health. Where we spend €1 on nuclear research, we will also spend €1 on clean technologies and the prevention of environmental violations. We want to be exemplary in both areas.
We will invest massively in transport.
I say that the State was wrong to disengage from developing urban transport. The main issue today is indeed congestion in city centers. I will restore State participation in the construction of bus lanes, bicycle lanes and tramways. Over 1,500 kilometers will be built outside the Ile-de-France [Greater Paris] area.
The TGV high-speed rail system is a great step forward. We will be building an additional 2,000 kilometers of track. And I propose that we adopt the principle of allocating the lines thus freed up to freight transport. That will amount to 2 million fewer lorries traveling north-south through France in 2020.
We will be refurbishing the inland waterway and sea transport systems. France has outstanding assets. I propose an investment plan for inland waterway transport that will remove one million lorries from the roads by 2020. And I make the commitment to revitalize our ports to ensure that goods at long last come in through our ports and not only by road. We will be discussing this with a number of trade union organizations.
And we will have a policy of massive investment in buildings.
This is a priority and it is urgent. We want to reduce the amount of energy that buildings consume.
I propose that we adopt two rules. By 2012, all new buildings built in France should comply with the so-called “low-consumption” standards; and by 2020, all new buildings should be energy positive, i.e. they should produce more energy than they consume. Why 2020? Because we do not, at this time, have the necessary contractors and skilled labour, and because a substantial amount of training will be needed.
The major issue will be the 30 million old dwellings and buildings. We will double the number of old buildings renovated every year and raise the number of old dwellings renovated every year to 400,000. This program will start with the 800,000 public housing units that are currently in poor condition.
Finally I set out a simple rule for all the household appliances, television sets, hi-fis and other equipment that are causing an exponential increase in household energy budgets. As soon as an alternative becomes available at a reasonable price, the appliances that consume the most energy will be prohibited. We will begin applying this rule to incandescent light bulbs and single-glazed windows in 2010.
Policy of massive investment in agriculture.
Sustainable agriculture is important – there are 800,000 people dying of hunger. And by 2050 there will be an additional three billion human beings. Don’t say we do not need agriculture! Agriculture is a major issue. But we do not want an agriculture that depletes our soils, an agriculture that makes increasing use of dangerous chemicals. José Manuel, I will be conveying this message at the beginning of the French presidency of the European Union, set for the second half of 2008, during the major policy debate on the underlying principles for the 2013 Common Agricultural Policy.
The Grenelle discussions have shown that it is now possible to make major strides towards the development of environmentally-friendly agriculture and fishing.
All public canteens will be offering at least one meal a week based on organic farming. This is a minimum. The Prime Minister and I will be setting much higher objectives in coming months and years.
And I make a commitment that catering specifications will require labeled products or products from certified farms. High-quality producers exist and it is up to the State, in its public specifications, to help them – not by making speeches but by taking decisions. When this cannot be done voluntarily, we will provide incentives to do this in the form of obligations.
And the State will take the lead. Starting in 2008, all the ministries and administrations will draw up their carbon balance and undertake a program to improve their energy efficiency by 20%.
Starting in 2008, the public procurement code will be revised to make environmental clauses compulsory rather than optional.
Starting in 2008, all public building projects will meet the best energy performance standards.
And starting in 2009, all new administration vehicles will have to be clean-energy ones.
This major program is not an expenditure but an investment. It is the most profitable investment we can make today.
In the building sector alone, we will create 100,000 jobs and new training programs.
In the new energy sector, 50,000 jobs will be created.
Energy independence in France will be improved and we will succeed in reducing household energy bills by nearly 40% between now and 2020.
We want a policy of incentives.
The Grenelle has been an extraordinary eye opener. The French expect us to be ecologically very ambitious. Of course, there are misgivings. But the main challenge is no longer to persuade. The main challenge is to take decisions.
I propose to introduce a right to an alternative for everyone. Environmental decisions should not leave anyone in insurmountable difficulty or in an unsustainable position. If the ban on bringing cars into city centers prevents someone from going to work, then local authorities must offer that person an alternative transport solution. People must not be punished. They must be provided with incentives.
I am told that this policy is expensive and that new taxes would be required to finance it.
These are the objections of the same people who question the environmental policy and are convinced that we can do no more than we are doing now.
Pollution is very costly for society. Pollution is a debt we are passing on to our children.
I think that building renovation has a payback period of less than 10 years because it reduces the energy bill.
As for transport, I observe that no one worried, before, about the cost of roads. Can we not finance alternative transport by reducing the amount of money allocated to building roads?
We must also stop seeing ecology taxes as a way to finance additional State spending.
So I make a commitment: Grenelle taxes will finance Grenelle solutions.
I propose to tax lorries traveling through France and using our road network. José Manuel, there is no reason why France should welcome all the lorries that are avoiding the roads of our neighbors. This tax will be used to finance public transport.
Grenelle proposes an annual ecology tax on the highest-polluting new vehicles. I call for this tax to finance the withdrawal of old high-polluting vehicles by making a progressive and long-term vehicle scrapping bonus available to support the purchase of a clean-energy vehicle.
And the best way to bring about a change in behavior is to use the price system. Today’s prices do not reflect the reality of pollution and shortages. You have made the proposal to label consumer staples to indicate their carbon content. This is a first step.
I want to do more. I want to focus on the carbon price. And José Manuel Barroso is the inventor of this system. It is not normal that a product shipped halfway around the world should cost less than a local product because the price of its production and transport does not include its greenhouse gas emissions.
I have asked the European Union about this. We were the first to subject our leading companies to a system of quotas to limit their emissions impacting the climate. It is not normal that their competitors importing the same products in Europe should not be subject to any obligations.
I do not want to shelve this issue just because it could be complicated. It must be dealt with at Community level. We must examine the possibility of taxing products imported from countries that do not comply with the Kyoto Protocol. We have imposed environmental standards on our producers. It is not normal that their competitors should be completely exempted. And I propose that within the next six months the European Union should debate the meaning of fair competition. Environmental dumping is not fair. It is a European issue that we must raise.
The Grenelle concluded that there is a need to consider a “climate-energy” tax, in other words a tax on fossil fuels.
I would set the following principles:
I am against any additional taxation of households and businesses. There can be no question of raising the tax rate. And the government is against any levy that would reduce household purchasing power. All new taxes must be strictly offset.
Ecological taxation makes sense only if it brings about a change in behaviour. It makes sense only if it fosters new production methods, new innovations. It does not make sense if it unfairly punishes our citizens and unnecessarily punishes our businesses.
When a clean product is available, it should be less expensive than a polluting product. I call, José Manuel, for the creation of a lower VAT rate on all ecological products that protect the climate and biodiversity. I will fight to obtain it.
I agree to go further in addressing this issue. Ecological taxation should not be just a series of small taxes. What we need is an in-depth overhaul. The goal is to obtain a higher tax on pollution – especially fossil fuels – and a lower tax on labour.
I make a commitment that the general tax system overhaul will be based on the creation of a “climate-energy” tax to compensate for a reduction in the tax on labour – on competitiveness, I say this to the Minister of Finance – and to maintain purchasing power – I say this to the trade union leaders.’
Even Nicolas Hulot, France’s uber environmentalist was pleased with the Grenelle Environment Agreement. I am too. Mr. or Mrs. Future President of the United States, may I add to my earlier letter to you, will you please look at the work by your fellow European leaders, including France, and take note. Much of the thinking has already be done. All that is needed is the political will, your political will, to stand up to some old interests, and move forward.