France Aims at Clearing its Electricity Production of Fossil Fuels

France Aims at Clearing its Electricity Production of Fossil Fuels

The French energy sector has since the 1970s been dominated by nuclear energy, and in the 2010s nuclear has provided at most over 75% of the country’s electricity. Because of this internationally exceptional feature, France is relatively advanced in transitioning away from fossil fuels. Its CO2 emissions per capita are less than 59% of the average of the G7 countries, and among the lowest in Europe. However, energy consumption still stands for 70.3% of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions, with transportation (29%) and housing (17.1%) as the main consumption sectors.

The current French energy legislation dates back to 2015. The Law on Energy Transition for Green Growth (loi relative à la transition énergétique pour la croissance verte) is a broad framework with measures ranging from support for energy refurbishment and clean transport to plastics recycling. Regarding energy, the law sets objectives for clean and safe energy production, combined with bringing down energy costs and creating new jobs. Originally, the law defined greenhouse gas emission reduction targets at -30% by 2030, and -75% by 2050, compared to 1990 levels. Energy consumption was to decrease by 20% from 2012 to 2030 and by 50% by 2050. Renewable energy was to make up 23% of the total energy consumption by 2020, and 32% by 2030. Fossil fuels were to be reduced by 30% from 2012 to 2030. At the same time, nuclear energy was to be reduced to less than 50% of electricity production by 2025.

The Law on Energy Transition was amended in 2019. With the amendment, France now aims at a 40% greenhouse gas reduction by 2030 and at carbon neutrality by 2050. Among the most concretely defined measures is the commitment to shut down the four remaining coal plants by 2022. According to government data, these plants only produce some 1.18% of all electricity consumed, yet stand for nearly 30% (10 million tonnes) of the electricity sector GHG emissions. Coal plants are also expensive, partly due to the cost of coal imports (€1.5 billion annually) and partly due to growing competition from other energy sources. Because of their flexibility of use, coal plants have nevertheless been important for securing electricity supply especially in cooler parts of the country at peak consumption times. If other electricity solutions have not been put in place by 2022, the coal plants could continue their functions in wintertime peak periods until 2024. The national electric utility company, Éléctricité de France (EDF), is planning to turn at least one of the coal plants into a biomass plant.

The amendment of the Law on Energy Transition furthermore involves a postponement from 2025 to 2035 of the objective to reduce the share of nuclear energy in electricity production to less than 50%. The Government of President Émmanuel Macron deemed 2025 an unrealistic goal for such a reduction. The oldest of France’s nuclear power plants, Fessenheim, will close down this year. According to the 2019 national energy plan (programmation pluriannuelle de l’énergie), another 14 of the existing 58 nuclear reactors will be shut down between 2029 and 2035, while one reactor is currently being built. Critics say that the postponement of the nuclear energy reduction will slow down the development of renewable energy and that the government simply succumbed to the nuclear energy lobby, as has happened to previous governments many times before. Proponents argue that nuclear energy in the electricity sector is the most efficient way for France to reach its commitments on GHG emissions reductions. In either case, the share of renewable sources of the gross final energy consumption in France was only 16% in 2018. It, therefore, seems unlikely indeed that the renewable sector will be able to make up for 50% of the electricity production even by 2035, unless significant investments are made within short.

Since 2000, energy production in France has remained at around 140 million tonnes of oil equivalent (Mtep) annually. Energy consumption peaked in 2005 at 271 Mtep, after which it has slowly decreased to 253 Mtep in 2018. GHG emissions originating in energy consumption have decreased from a total of 379.1 Mt CO2 equivalent in 1990 to 321.9 Mt in 2016, a decrease of approximately 15%. Shifts in these figures since the introduction of the Law on Energy Transition in 2015 remain modest.

Activity Rating: ****Moving Forward

Within the relatively limited margin that France has to reduce its emissions deriving from electricity production, the 2019 amendments to the energy legislation can make a real difference as the remaining coal plants are shut down. At the same time, France should not be content with relying on nuclear energy but continue making efforts in expanding its use of renewables.

Take Action:

Write to the President of France, Mr. Emmanuel Macron, and Ministers for the Ecological and Inclusive Transition, Ms. Élisabeth Borne, Ms. Brune Poirson and Ms. Emmanuelle Wargon:

Dear Mr. President, Dear Ms. Ministers,

Climate Scorecard congratulates you for the decision to close down France’s four remaining coal power plants, as stipulated in the 2019 amendment of La loi relative à la transition énergétique pour la croissance verte. We believe this measure has the potential to significantly reduce France’s greenhouse gas emissions.  Given the circumstances, we also have an understanding of your choice to extend the transition period for reducing the share of nuclear energy in electricity production. However, we also want to caution against neglecting the development of renewable energy. We, therefore, urge you to be mindful of continued and strong investment in renewable energy in the years to come so as to ensure its 50% share of electricity production at latest by 2035. In the meantime, we advise increasing the use of renewable energy, especially through heat pumps, in the heating sector, to meet the national reduction targets of greenhouse gas emissions.

With our respectful and best regards,

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Send Action Alert Message to:

Mr. Emmanuel Macron


Ms. Élisabeth Borne


Ms. Brune Poirson


Ms. Emmanuelle Wargon


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