The Conflicts Between Climate Mitigation and Development in France

Since the beginning of the climate debate in France, climate policy has been marked by a perceived tension between the goals of national interest and global solidarity. The belief persisted in France and many other countries that climate policy should not impair national economic competitiveness in the global economy. Therefore, The challenge for France was to not only define its national interest in terms of short-term economic competitiveness but also emphasize the complementarity of long-term economic development and climate mitigation strategies. This critical shift in thinking has been made possible partly due to increasing national acknowledgment that France is vulnerable to the consequences of climate change, which has led to a sweeping reappraisal of France’s ‘vital interests.’ That being said, conflict exists today in France between climate mitigation and development policies, including:

  1. Urban development: There is often a conflict between the need for urban development and preserving green spaces and natural habitats. While French cities should continue investing in the development of green infrastructure, including urban parks, green roofs, and vertical gardens, at the same time, cities are a vital contributor to climate change, as urban activities are significant sources of greenhouse gas emissions. Estimates reported by UNEP suggest that cities are responsible for 75% of global CO2 emissions, with transport and buildings being among the largest contributors.
  2. Energy transition: France is working towards transitioning to renewable energy sources, but this transition can conflict with the interests of traditional energy industries and their associated economic development. France has, however, attempted to end support for fossil fuel projects as of the end of 2022, when they stopped granting export guarantees for new fossil fuel projects. The end of these guarantees – similar to insurance covering the defective performance of a contract, for example, or a foreign partner defaulting on payment – affects “the sector’s entire value chain for all fossil fuels, from upstream exploration-production to downstream refining, including transport and storage. France joined a coalition of countries at COP26 committed to ending foreign financing of fossil fuel projects by the end of 2022. However, the agreement allowed some exceptions, specifically if the projects involved carbon capture and storage techniques. Despite this measure, Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire said France’s 2023 budget “still leaned a little too much on the side of fossil fuels” because the government chose to “protect” the French in response to the energy crisis. More robust financing and commitment to alternative green energies such as wind and solar will help insulate everyday French citizens from higher energy prices.
  3. Transportation infrastructure: Building new transportation infrastructure, such as highways or airports, can conflict with climate mitigation goals by increasing carbon emissions and encouraging car-dependent lifestyles. Transport remains France’s primary source of greenhouse gas emissions: 126 million tons of CO2 equivalent or 30% of the total in 2021, i.e., three times as much as the housing sector, with the biggest emitters being the 38 million private vehicles circulating on France’s roads. Thankfully, the push towards electric vehicles and hybrids in France is powered by an enormous public and private initiative to electrify an entirely renewed passenger car fleet by 2040.
  4. Agricultural policies: France has a strong agricultural sector, and policies to support agricultural development can sometimes conflict with efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. France remains reluctant to make its agriculture greener despite criticism from the EU on France’s implementation of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) that applies between 2023 and 2027. Brussels observed that France’s CAP lacked environmental ambition and expressed concerns over ‘the end of subsidies for organic farming, the absence of targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from livestock farming, the low level of protection of water resources, the insufficient measures against agricultural pollution, the absence of targets for areas that are favorable to biodiversity, the possibility of plowing parts of the permanent grasslands, etc.’ Incorporating such changes as advised by the EU is a first step in upsetting France’s dominant and polluting agricultural model.

These conflicts highlight the need for careful planning and policy coordination to ensure development goals align with climate mitigation objectives. It is encouraging that the French are concerned about climate change and support ambitious measures to stop it at the national and international levels. Some measures are very popular, such as public investment in low-carbon infrastructure, compulsory thermal renovation with subsidies, or a ban on polluting vehicles in city centers. In contrast, others generate divided opinions, such as the carbon tax, a ban on internal combustion cars, or a tax on red meat.

This Post was submitted by Climate Scorecard France Country Manager Liana Mehring.

Learn More

AFP, Le Monde with. “France to End Support for Fossil Fuel Projects by the End of 2022.” Le Monde.Fr, Le Monde, 26 Sept. 2022,

Foucart, Stéphane. “France Remains Reluctant to Make Its Agriculture Greener, despite Criticism from the EU.” Le Monde.Fr, Le Monde, 5 May 2022,

Szarka, J. (2011). Climate policy in France: between national interest and global solidarity?. Politique européenne, 33, 155-183.

The French and Climate Policies – Scholars at Harvard, Accessed 30 Jan. 2024.,being%20among%20the%20largest%20contributors.

“Transport, France’s Main Source of Greenhouse Gases Emissions.” Economic,,48748. Accessed 30 Jan. 2024.

Image Source:  (Getty: Loic Venance)


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