From the Loire to the Vistula River | Three steps in planning the energy transition

Polish-French relations have become a bit difficult lately. When President Macron said in an interview that the Paris climate protesters should move to Warsaw because it is Poland that is blocking European climate ambitions, Poland was in turmoil. Leaving aside the emotions, it is worth looking at how the French are coping with the energy transformation. This is what the new analysis of the Forum Energii is about.

In the analysis "From the Loire to the Vistula River. Three steps in planning the energy transition", Delphine Gozillon, its author, gives an example of France as a country where, as in a lens, one can see political friction connected with the energy transformation. Ambitious climate goals and strategies meet with social resistance or do not bring results. They require adjustments and changes in approach. One can find instability here, but there is also an inspiring attempt to manage conflicts of interest and create public policies.

It may seem that France and Poland have nothing in common in the field of energy, but it is not true. Just as Poland currently relies its system on coal, France uses an atom. Here and there, the pace of RES development is not satisfactory. France seems to be richer in its experience from 2018 and draws conclusions from it. Poland can benefit from the French experience and learn lessons for itself by limiting the risk of protests - says Delphine Gozillon.

When there is a discussion about the limitations of conventional power generation and the climate crisis, it is worth checking how the neighbours are doing. It is important that ambitious environmental goals do not marginalize poorer citizens. Thoughtful and targeted support tools can protect them. The energy transition is a major change, and the conflict of interests is obvious. On the one hand, the arguments of the fossil fuel sector must be noticed, and on the other, the interests of the new industry must be understood. Social pressure related to a clean environment requires an active role of the authorities in easing tensions and pushing things forward. The conflict in France, growing populism, made Europe understand that a fair transformation is important, that EUR 1 has a different value for someone who earns 500 or 5000 euro per month - says Dr. Joanna Maćkowiak-Pandera.

The wave of climate protests that is sweeping through the streets of cities in Poland and around the world in the last week of September is proof of the growing importance of climate action. Unfortunately, the level of public debate on this subject is usually limited to round, safe (for voters) sentences and vague formulations. The pre-election period does not serve the purpose of a serious debate in Poland. In November there will be a time when social expectations will have to be met. The Polish government will have to put the concept of energy transformation and climate protection on the table if it wants to avoid a sector heart attack. And it will be necessary to balance the interests - not only of miners, but also of young people taking part in climate strikes, of industry, which is paying more and more for its energy, and of Kowalski, who wants to have a solar power plant on the roof.

The source of the French deadlock

The French problems reached their peak in the autumn of 2018. Friday's climate marches in support of the "Case of the Century", on the one hand, and Saturday's protests of the "yellow vests", on the other, swept through France. The first of these accused the government of insufficient action to reduce emissions and combat climate change. The second group refused to accept restrictions on individual transport to reduce emissions. The regulations accompanying them and a CO2 tax would mainly affect the middle class living on the outskirts of cities, who used to use diesel cars (once considered ecological) to get to work. The protesters in yellow vests did not agree that such a high cost of the transformation would be borne by the poorer part of the society. This led to an impasse in the energy and climate policy. After a year, the level of ambition did not change, but the government drew conclusions on how to manage public policy.

Three steps in planning the energy transition

The French government has learnt from the 2018 protests, changed its approach and style of action. 

Three steps in planning the energy transition - lessons from 2018

  • Precise definition of long-term objectives.
  • Involving citizens in the development of the climate strategy and gaining public acceptance for it.
  • Creation of an independent body responsible for assessing and monitoring the long-term decarbonisation strategy.

Below we explain what these steps are:

Precise definition of long-term objectives. France has set itself at the start of the climate neutrality race in 2050. The year 2030 as an intermediate year will mean the achievement of the primary energy reduction target for fossil fuels from 30 to 40% (compared to 2012), the achievement of the target for the share of renewable energy in the mix to 33% - with specific targets for each sector (40% for electricity production, 38% of final heat consumption, 15% of transport fuels (biofuels) and 10% of gas consumption (biogas)). The French want renewable and low-carbon hydrogen to reach 20-40% of total consumption in 2030. On the road to climate neutrality, France has a so-called emission budget system with maximum greenhouse gas emission limits for each sector of the economy. Deviations from the plan motivate the government and parliament to take corrective action.

Public debate and public acceptance. Demonstrations mobilised the government to establish the Citizen Convention for the Ecological Transition. This form of deliberative democracy is practised in Poland in some local governments (Gdańsk, Warsaw, Olsztyn). In France, an attempt is being made to introduce it at the national level. Within the framework of the Convention, proposals for reforms and solutions necessary for the energy and climate transformation are to be drawn up. The findings will be approved by Parliament. To ensure that citizens are not left on their own, technical and legal assistance for the Convention will be provided by the expert Economic, Social and Environmental Council.

Monitoring progress. Supervision over the implementation of climate policy is to be exercised by the High Council to Climate. In addition to a wide range of activities, it also has numerous competences and resources. The Council has an expert character, acts on its own initiative and is independent from other institutions. It ensures that the entire climate action system is supplied with scientific, technical and economic knowledge and monitors whether the trajectories for achieving the objectives are consistent with the strategies and plans adopted. The Council was inspired by British ideas. Similar bodies exist in Germany, Denmark, Ireland and Sweden.

We hope that this paper will help to overcome the temporary impasse in relations and bring France and Poland closer together in developing a common European energy and climate policy, as well as to explain the political context of the statements expressed by politicians facing internal difficulties.


Date of publication:: 30 September 2019

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