Rhein on Energy and Climate

Bye-Bye French C02 Tax

In an immediate volte-face the French government has drawn the conclusions from the debacle of the regional elections and abandoned the project of C02 tax that had been prepared with much fanfare during the last two years. Designed to win voters from the green camp it has lost its purpose.

Anyhow it had been so emasculated that its impact on French green house gas emissions would have been absolutely negligible. The victory of the green-left opposition therefore was even helpful to abandon a project that had never been really popular or plausible for a rightist government.

But the volte-face and the dubious justification given for the withdrawal – impairment of French competitiveness – show how dramatically public opinion on climate policy in France and other EU countries has changed under the impact of the economic crisis and the failure of the Copenhagen Climate Conference. Today, climate policy ranges very low among the political priorities in Europe. Politicians still carry it as a mantra in their weekend speeches, but do not to take effective action.

The French government has suggested introducing an EU-wide C02 tax. This would resolve the issue of competitive disadvantages and, one might add, be simpler and more coherent. But France knows quite well that this suggestion will never see a follow-up. Having burned its fingers once with such a proposal almost 20 years ago, the EU Commission has switched to what it considers as a more effective tool, i.e. cap and trade of C02. It is most unlikely that it will submit a proposal for a C02 tax, which moreover has no chance of being adopted because of unanimity requirements.

All this being said, France does not really need a C02 tax, which would make gasoline and fuel a few cents more expensive per litre. France is exemplary in terms of per capita C02 emissions. No other major industrialised country in the world has reached low emission levels like France. France draws some 80 percent of its electricity needs from emission-free sources (nuclear, hydro, wind and solar). It imposes high excise taxes and user fees on road transport.

Finger-pointing the French government would therefore be inappropriate. Germany may have

a better green image than France. But it continues building coal-fired power plants, and its railway system absorbs less traffic than in France.

Brussels 25.03.10 Eberhard Rhein

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