Billed by the economy minister, Bruno Le Maire, as a “big green recovery plan”, one-third of France’s €100bn (£90bn) post-Covid economic stimulus package will be spent, in the government’s words, on “ecological transition” and “greening the economy”.
Environmental groups said the plan, presented on Thursday by the prime minister, Jean Castex, and other cabinet members, marked a welcome first step – but criticised a missed opportunity to break decisively with a growth-driven, high-carbon economy.
“After multiple announcements of a plan meant to ‘reconcile economy and ecology’, the government has presented a recovery plan from a bygone era,” said Jean-François Julliard, the head of Greenpeace France. “It’s a lot less green than it looks.”
The overall package, aimed at pulling France out of a deep Covid-induced slump, equates to 4% of GDP – more than any other big EU country – and has three key objectives: increasing competitiveness, boosting jobs, and greening the economy.
The main environmental measures focus on transport, energy production and energy-efficient renovation programmes for public buildings, offices and homes. A further €1.5bn is to be spent on greening the food sector, for example by developing shorter supply chains, and the fishing industry.
About €11bn will be invested in transport. Nearly €5bn of that will be spent on France’s rail network, with the aim of shifting a significantly greater proportion of freight traffic from road to rail and boosting local lines and night services.
More than €1bn will be devoted to encouraging bicycle use by building more cycle lanes and subsidising bike maintenance, with a further €2bn being spent on financial incentives for drivers to switch to cleaner cars.
More than €7bn has been set aside for energy efficiency for buildings such as schools, universities, town halls and police stations, but also for business premises and private homes, with subsidies available to all from next year for projects including improving home insulation or changing to a more energy-efficient boiler.
About €9bn is set to be invested in helping French industry transition to greener energy, with the aim of reaching carbon neutrality by 2050. More than €3bn will be spent on efforts to “decarbonise” industry, including developing green hydrogen technologies and a national hydrogen economy.
Campaigners remain largely unconvinced, arguing that there was little point spending millions on greening the economy if millions were also being spent on polluting industries and outdated technologies. Some measures in the broader recovery programme were counterproductive, they said.
“Blank cheques have been written to the aviation and automobile sectors,” Julliard said, “and the government is still kowtowing to the private sector. There are €20bn of tax cuts for industry in the recovery plan that companies will benefit from regardless of their environmental impact, with no green conditions attached.”
The sums allocated to the rail network and the agriculture sector were “certainly important”, he said. “But this plan will not change things structurally: there is nothing on reducing road or air traffic, on the cuts to beef, egg and milk production that will be necessary to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”
Arnaud Schwartz, the president of France Nature Environment, also said the recovery plan should be viewed as a whole. “What are €30bn when France … is investing €300bn in nuclear energy?” he said. “We want a full environmental impact report on the whole package, before and after implementation. It isn’t happening.”
Louise Kessler, of the Institute for Climate Economics, said the environmental measures were a good start but would need to be extended over the long term. “Extra money should also be in addition – it must finance investment, not just make good the deficits left by the crisis,” she told Le Monde.
Another NGO, Réseau Action Climat, said €30bn was not enough, arguing that more than €43bn would be needed over the next two years alone to make meaningful progress. An ecologist MP, Matthieu Orphelin, said the plan was “a welcome catch-up” but “nowhere near enough for the step change in climate policy we need”.