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France’s Green Revolution: Political and Economic Perspectives in the Post-Covid Era

By Louis Mafart

Edited by Nico Herrlett & Gigi Kordula

Following the COVID-19 pandemic, France is undergoing a substantial environmental transformation that intricately aligns political strategies and economic considerations. The nation is charting a green revolution with a keen focus on political foresight and economic resilience. In this pivotal wake of the COVID-19 aftermath, the national political and economic landscape set the stage for unprecedented challenges and transformations regarding ecology.


France’s Governmental Response to COVID-19

The French government, recognising the severity of the economic crisis, implemented various measures to support businesses and individuals. Massive stimulus packages and financial aid were injected into the economy, providing a lifeline for struggling sectors.

The overarching objective was clear: anticipate a disastrous financial collapse and lay the foundation for recuperation. President Macron’s “quoi qu'il en coûte” (whatever its cost) plunged the public debt to more than 111,80 per cent of the country’s GDP.

He acknowledged the necessity of such drastic measures to prevent a deeper recession. The government's focus had been on providing support where needed, but the economic road to recovery is not without hurdles.

With France’s public debt reaching alarming levels, the fiscal challenges ahead are evident. The debt-to-GDP ratio surpassed 115 per cent in 2021, a significant jump from pre-pandemic levels. Balancing the need for economic revival with fiscal responsibility remains a delicate dance for policymakers. 

To bring the budget closer to balance and put the debt ratio on a downward trajectory, France embarked on a gradual but notable fiscal restructuring over the medium term.

This began by using the rest of the governmental aid destined to protect the economy during the pandemic to gradually reduce the budget deficit, starting in 2023. Followed by steady consolidation supported by spending reforms, that left the room for accelerating green and digital investments.

Although this could be viewed as a decision that will weigh on the national debt, the results were predicted to be beneficial in the long term.

A 30 Billion Euro Pledge

France has taken bold steps to align its recovery with green objectives. Macron's administration unveiled a 30 billion euro "France Relance" (Relaunch) plan, allocating a substantial portion to environmental initiatives.

This plan created over 100,000 green jobs, providing a much-needed boost to the economy after the pandemic plummeted the economy to its lowest form since World War II. The plan simultaneously stimulated economic growth and provided environmental sustainability. 

One of the flagship policies is the commitment to biodiversity. The government aims to invest 600 million euros to preserve and restore ecosystems, protect endangered species, and create green corridors.

This move underscores France's dedication to not only combat the immediate health crisis but also address the long-term threats posed by climate change and biodiversity loss. 

While this might not seem directly tied to the health crisis, it is a strategic move. Preserving ecosystems is not just about saving species; it is about safeguarding the natural environment, which, in turn, contributes to overall public health.

A healthy environment reduces the risk of diseases, ensuring a more robust defence against future health crises. 

Furthermore, an ambitious energy renovation program for public buildings, backed by an investment of seven billion euros, will be launched in 2024. This initiative not only enhances energy efficiency but also generates job opportunities.

Indeed, considering the impact COVID-19 had on the French job market, the creation of new jobs will stabilise the situation.  

Eco-Conscious Shifts

The pandemic has acted as a catalyst for societal shifts towards a more eco-conscious mindset. With lockdowns prompting a reevaluation of priorities, many French citizens have embraced sustainable practices.

Statistics reveal that 64 per cent of the French population pays closer attention to the origin of a product, since the lockdown in 2020. This is followed by a 25 per cent increase in farmers' market sales, indicating a preference for locally sourced products, bolstering local economies and supporting political goals of sustainable agriculture.  

Cycling has become a symbol of the green revolution in France. The government, recognising the importance of sustainable mobility, announced a 200 million euro plan to encourage cycling infrastructure. This will incorporate the creation of more bike lanes in urban areas and the introduction of financial incentives for citizens purchasing electric bikes. 

In addition, the primary objective is to enhance the visitor experience in large cities, also contributing to reducing the carbon footprint associated with travel. Further, investments made in rail infrastructure enhance connectivity and coincidingly encourage a paradigm shift from individual car use to more eco-friendly and collective forms of transportation. 

This shift has far-reaching implications, such as reducing traffic congestion, lowering emissions, and fostering a more sustainable urban mobility landscape.

In fine, the massive investment resonates with the public's growing inclination towards sustainable transportation methods. Indeed, French citizens are becoming increasingly aware of their carbon footprint. 

A study by the French Environment and Energy Management Agency (ADEME) indicates a 30 per cent rise in composting practices during the pandemic. This not only reduces waste but also contributes to soil health and lowers greenhouse gas emissions. 

Infrastructure Overhaul

One of the "France Relance" initiatives is aimed at developing the country’s infrastructure, which includes, for example, a cleaner and more efficient public transportation system. Indeed, investments in electric buses and the expansion of rail networks, aligning to reduce carbon emissions are planned. 

To illustrate, the number of electric vehicles on French roads has surged by 40 per cent, reflecting a growing preference for eco-friendly transportation. The political plan revolves around reducing carbon emissions, while the economic dimension highlights job creation and fostering a sustainable transport sector. 

The emphasis on renewable energy is a pivotal feature of France's agenda. Indeed, the country has witnessed a twelve per cent increase in renewable energy production since the pandemic, with wind and solar energy leading the way.

The government, additionally,  plans to invest seven billion euros in accelerating the development of green hydrogen and offshore wind projects

In addition to fostering energy independence, these initiatives also position France as a leader in the global transition to renewable energy.

The emphasis on offshore wind projects gives France an advantage in the usage of wind energy. This not only diversifies the energy mix but also capitalises on the country's extensive coastline, turning it into a valuable resource for sustainable power generation. 

In doing so, France is meeting its domestic energy needs but is also actively contributing to global efforts to combat climate change through the widespread adoption of renewable energy technologies.

A Symbiotic Relationship

As France charts its green revolution post-COVID, the symbiotic relationship between politics and the economy is undeniable. The political commitment to environmental sustainability is not merely rhetoric; it is a strategic move to ensure economic resilience and global competitiveness.

The economic shifts towards eco-conscious living and infrastructure overhaul align with political foresight, creating a comprehensive strategy that positions France at the forefront of the global green transition.

In this unique blend of political vision and economic pragmatism, France stands as a model for nations seeking to balance environmental priorities with economic recovery.

The green revolution is not simply about reducing carbon emissions; it is about reshaping political and economic landscapes to forge a more sustainable and resilient future. 

The government has understood that its success is strongly linked to its ecological efforts. As France continues on this path, it leads the way in environmental endeavours as well as setting a precedent for integrating green initiatives into the core ideology of political and economic decision-making. 

Sources: Ademe, Euractive, Ember, European Commision, France Info, Iddri, Le Figaro, Ministère de L’Europe et des Affaires Étrangères, Reuters, Statista, The Guardian

Written by Louis Mafart

December 2023

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