CO2 Emissions in France Drop Following Lockdown – Climate Aspects Not Considered in Pandemic Policies

CO2 Emissions in France Drop Following Lockdown – Climate Aspects Not Considered in Pandemic Policies

France has been under lockdown because of COVID-19 since mid-March. As of 19 April, the lockdown has been extended twice and is in force until 11 May. Under the lockdown, people are only allowed to leave home for work (if remote work is not possible), for grocery shopping, seeking medical care, and for a few other exceptions.  Violators will be fined. Bars and restaurants, libraries, museums, cinemas, and most shops are closed.

As the economy plummets – by 6% in the first quarter of the year – the government of President Emmanuel Macron has introduced a number of measures to subsidize businesses. These include postponing taxes, social security contributions, rents, and utility bills; providing state-guaranteed loans; and setting up ‘solidarity funds’ for small enterprises, awarding grants up to €1,500. In addition, the Air France-KLM Group, whose entire fleet is practically grounded, is negotiating with the French and Dutch governments for a financial rescue package. Each of the two governments has an ownership of around 14% of the company.

Employees and households are supported through broadened national unemployment insurance, subsidized salaries, and access to childcare. The public sector is entitled to treat the epidemic as a force majeure, under which late payment penalties do not apply. None of the economic and health policy measures seems to have included considerations regarding climate change mitigation or adaptation.

Overall, all political and social reforms, including new environmental and climate policies, have been on hold since 31 March. Climate reporting by both media and the government is currently also limited, meaning there is little insight into ongoing climate activities.

Emissions temporarily at a historical low – risk of backlash once the economy will pick up

Like in many other countries, the lockdown has entailed side effects beneficial short-term to the environment and the climate. According to the NGO Airparif, the strong reduction in air and road traffic has improved air quality in Paris by 20-30% thanks to a 60% drop in nitrogen oxide levels – an effect unprecedented in the 40 years of measurement history. CO2 emissions have similarly decreased by approximately 30% compared to this time of the year under normal conditions. Since traffic produces the largest share of greenhouse gas emissions in France, the climate effect in the short term could be discernible. Electricity consumption has also declined by some 10-15% nationally, but the environmental or climate impact of this will likely be trivial, as 75% of electricity in France is produced by nuclear energy and 20% by renewable sources. In early April 2020, CO2 emissions from electricity production were at around 15 g/kWh, compared to an average of around 30 g/kWh in early April 2019.

Causal relationships between the lockdown and the observed beneficial environmental effects are not always simple and direct. For example, air quality depends not only on current and local emissions but also on weather conditions, reactions between different pollutants, global emissions, etc. However, the observed effects are clearly connected to the lockdown. As such, it is unlikely these effects can be sustained beyond the extension of the restrictive measures. On the contrary, there is a great risk that the long-term climate effects of the crisis will turn out to be devastating. After the unforeseen losses imposed by the crisis, governments will be tempted to prop up fossil industries to boost their economies, much as they did following the financial crisis of 2008.

In France, post-crisis economic recovery measures are currently only being planned, with nothing concrete presented yet and no announcement made of climate efforts being discontinued. Climate Scorecard applauds France for signing the letter by 13 EU countries demanding that the European Green Deal “must be central to a resilient recovery” after the pandemic. However, we remain watchful of future impulses to prioritize short-term economic gains over long-term climate effects. Economic recovery measures must be designed in a way that ensures environmental and social sustainability.

Activity Rating: *** Short-lived, temporary positive impact; risk of long-lived negative impact

France’s CO2 emissions have temporarily dropped as a side effect of the COVID-19 lockdown having reduced traffic. While measures introduced so far seem not to have had noticeable negative climate effects, there is a danger of climate considerations being neglected in the design of future economic recovery policies.

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 sends you our sincere support for your difficult task of managing the COVID-19 pandemic in France and globally in cooperation with other countries. At the same time, we are extremely concerned about the future effects the pandemic may have on the national and global efforts to mitigate and adapt to climate change. The climate challenge persists throughout and beyond the pandemic, and it is crucial that climate change efforts not be sacrificed for the sake of quick post-crisis economic recovery. We therefore urge you not to fall back on fossil energy and industry in your economic planning. We recommend that you conduct an analysis of the climate effects of the coronavirus as soon as possible and that the climate perspective be included in all future economic recovery measures.

With our respectful and best regards,

[sign name]

Send Action Alert Message to:

Mr. Emmanuel Macron


Ms. Élisabeth Borne


Ms. Brune Poirson


Ms. Emmanuelle Wargon


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