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what is the most ambitious goal?

We know it since November 2017 and the announcement made by the then Minister of the Ecological Transition, Nicolas Hulot: France is not in a position to respect the objective of reducing to 50% of the electricity mix the share of nuclear power in 2025, as it appears in the energy transition law adopted in 2015. For this reason alone, it is therefore necessary to amend the law. First of all, this is the purpose of the "little" law on energy currently being drafted, the text of which was leaked on February 8th.

But this is another topic that has caught the eye and sparked a lively debate: the replacement of the four-point division of greenhouse gas emissions in 2050 compared to 1990 (the famous "Factor 4" introduced in the early 2000s and included in the energy transition law) by a goal of "carbon neutrality" on the same date.

Carbon neutrality, a fuzzy notion

Is this a new renunciation of the government after abandonment sine die of the increase of the carbon tax to try to calm the crisis of "Yellow Vests"? Or on the contrary an upward revision of national ambitions, as advocated by the Minister for the Ecological Transition and many of his supporters but also some independent experts?

Defined as " achieving a balance between greenhouse gas emissions and anthropogenic removals by man-made ecosystems – forests, grasslands, agricultural soils, wetlands – and by some industrial processes, such as capture and carbon storage », this notion of carbon neutrality opens the way for many combinations, unlike the division by four of emissions.

The lawyers are the first to regret the replacement of a clear and binding objective by a notion that exists nowhere in law – "Not even, contrary to what the government claims, in the Paris agreement on climate", underlines Arnaud Gossement.

Carbon sinks: limited potential

Whether natural (forest growth, carbon storage in soil, etc.) or technological (capture and storage of CO2 at the exit of factories or, more diffusely, recovered in the air), carbon have limited potential. It is estimated that about 40 million tons per year of the current capacity of absorption of natural wells on our territory, for emissions of 450 million tons per year. However, to continue to function satisfactorily, these natural wells would need to be well maintained as ecosystems degrade. In addition, the storage they provide is not permanent, since forests can burn, for example.

As for industrial processes, if we talk about them for years, they have not yet proven their efficiency or their safety.

" Many studies have already shown that these technologies, because of their lack of technological maturity and associated risks, can not constitute the alpha and the omega of a climate policy, and therefore can not constitute a pretext to abstain today to launch a massive reduction in emissions Write Lola Vallejo and Michel Colombier, researchers at IDDRI (Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations).

Perhaps the most promising but also the least advanced technology is BECS (bio-energy with carbon storage). It involves planting biomass so that it absorbs atmospheric CO2 during its growth, before burning it while capturing the CO2 thus emitted, and storing it in the basement. But experts have calculated that 20 to 35 percent of the Earth's surface area would be needed to achieve global neutrality.

Strong political signal?

Some, notably at IDDRI or at Carbone 4, welcome with this objective of carbon neutrality a " strong political signal ". On the one hand, they point out, Factor 4 is insufficient in view of the situation. In addition, reading the IPCC scenarios, it is obvious that the drastic reduction of emissions must precede any absorption attempt.

According to the reference scenario in the draft National Low Carbon Strategy (SNBC), achieving carbon neutrality would mean reducing greenhouse gas emissions, " to 80 million tons against 560 million in 1990. " This equates to a reduction of 87%, or a division by six, against 75% according to Factor 4. This scenario excludes the purchase of foreign carbon credits but does provide for carbon capture and storage, even if is only for a residual quantity of 6 million tonnes, against 380 million tonnes to be phased out by 2050. But this scenario also slightly exceeds the upper limit of the absorption capacity of French carbon sinks.

Play on two boards, an open breach

Unlike factor 4, carbon neutrality plays on two levers at once: the reduction of emissions and the removals of carbon sinks.

But in the "little" law, the proportions between the two are not specified. Like Yves Marignac, some fear that if we can not sufficiently reduce our emissions by the sobriety and energy efficiency measures of future SNBCs, we will place an increasing emphasis on solutions such as capture and storage. CO2. In any case, it is blessed for the defenders of these technologies …

As many believe, the simplest way to address this vagueness would be to match the goal of carbon neutrality with a quantified emission reduction target in the text of the law.

" This would reassure the government's will and ambition, while the carbon budgets set by SNBC will be exceeded and a lack of confidence expressed in civil society ", point out the researchers of the IDDRI. Following the opinion of the EESC and the Council of State, it will be up to parliamentarians to take up this issue and reinforce the government's promise when the law is debated at the Assembly, scheduled for the beginning of the second quarter.

A context of distrust

Other elements of the "small" law seem more problematic to some, such as the goal of reducing final consumption, from 20 to 17% between 2012 and 2030. " As France's emissions rise again, aligning the objective with current trends today, instead of questioning the reasons for this delay, undermines the credibility of a programming law and the political scope of the program. inscription of neutrality in the law! Regrets the IDDRI. The research institute regrets that this revision is recorded without prior evaluation " what works and what does not work, what we have already tried and what we can still do within 12 years. "

Not surprising, however, if the larger decline in primary consumption of fossil fuels (-40% in 2030 compared to 2012 against -30% previously) receives less attention.

What seems certain is that in the current context, any indication suffering from several interpretations and solutions lends the flank to the suspicion of not doing enough on the front of the cuts and opens the door to lobbies …

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