[ C H R O N I C L E ]
On the issue of climate change, we are rapidly approaching the point of no return. This fact has just been confirmed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in its special report. If our greenhouse gas emissions remain constant (hardly realistic as they started rising again in 2017), the carbon budget used to keep global warming under 2°C will run out in only about fifteen years (1). The time scale will be far shorter if we commit to a gradual reduction; in this case, significant reductions need to be made now, as underlined by the IPCC in their report.
Can this “ardent obligation” be contrasted with accelerating political time, or with the emergence of widely publicised problems in taking decisions? Under this angle, it would seem that things are further advanced. On the energy question however (in Europe, energy represents 78% of greenhouse gas emissions), this apparent dynamic does not stand up to the facts. It took for example at least four years to negotiate the new European “energy-climate package” that will set European policy for the decade ahead. Even without the United States, the Paris Climate Agreement adopted in 2015 is struggling to effectively frame international action on climate from 2020. In France, the surprising reactions to offshore wind farms are also a sign; the drop in State support decided last June affects projects dating back to 2011, none of which has yet emerged from the sea… It shows how slowly this type of investment is implemented, and how hard it is for politicians to agree and decide on these issues with their many dimensions, each grounds for contention. In fact, the “winning” or “losing” industrial sectors in these arbitrations are significantly impacted by these decisions socially and economically (energy, automobile, etc.). They also affect the country’s supply security, and the availability and cost of the various forms of energy that the French consume. They therefore have impacts on people’s purchasing power and lifestyle which in turn affects their voting behaviour.
Actually, energy transition concerns not just all of the technical systems involved in energy transformation, but also the structure and organisation of our economy, our institutions, our society and everyone’s behaviour. It profoundly calls into question our values, habits and social relations. Are we ready to take fewer planes or the car less often? To change our eating habits? The major debate on energy issues apparent in French and European opinion mirrors our individual, tense oppositions.
This must be taken into account for large-scale, rapid transformation of our production systems. Forgetting these realities could lead to stalemate, with precious time wasted in meeting this unique challenge, as the examples given show.
We need to act very quickly. To do so, we need to step back from the energy debates; beyond the issue of nuclear, on which attention is too often focussed, the challenge concerns rather all that organises our society. We need to rethink our transport habits, housing choices, methods of consumption, etc. Beyond the immediacy of political debate, we also need to reflect seriously on the profound transformations that will occur in the long-term. Change is now, and “at the same time”, it is everywhere!
(1) This affirmation is given with a probability of 66%. The budget required to have a 66% chance of remaining under the 1.5°C target already seems unachievable.
Doctor of Political Science
Marie Dégremont is an associate research scientist at the Centre for Organisational Sociology in the Institute for Political Studies in Paris.