Photo Wikipedia / Minesweeper
[ C H R O N I C L E ]
The relative rise in the price of petrol over the last few months regularly gets the top story in the evening news, whether to deplore its impact on the purchasing power of the French, or on growth or on the national debt. It is a reminder of our dependency on this imported energy, use of which contributes significantly to climate change. The transport is especially concerned; in France, petrol represents 92% of all enegry consumed.
We need to question the collective and individual efforts made in this field, while the awareness of the French people, and of their leaders, is growing. More and more people are convinced of the human origin of global warming (72% in 2016, 76% in 2017), and 91% believe that transport contributes considerably to the phenomenon, at the top of their environmental concerns.
There is room for hope. Did we not see a slew of attractive innovations in “low-carbon” transport exhibited at the last Paris Motor Show? The focus on the challenges of mobility, beyond the car, may give rise to the hope that industry has turned a corner. Is this the seed of change? Or is it the tree hiding the forest of sport utility vehicles (SUV) and other big-engined cars? Are these trends filtering down to the consumption habits of the French? Indeed, the recent period has promoted change. Moderate petrol prices, seen from the end of 2014 to the start of 2018, reduced the immediate cost of traditional road transport. This freed up purchasing power, then available for greater investment (in electric or hybrid vehicles for example), costly in the short-term, but able to offset future rises in the price of fossil fuels and limit emissions of greenhouse gases. Above all, increased tax revenues associated with the growth that came from lower fossil fuel prices also represent resources that can help to prepare French society for a world without petrol.
Should we rejoice? Not really. In 2016, the number of kilometres covered by private vehicles in France was up by 2.7% compared to 2015, following two other years of increase. Car purchases also rose in the same period. Like the three previous years, 2017 and 2018 were exceptional for the automobile market. Sales of new cars rose by 4.7% in 2017 and 8.9% in the first eight months of 2018. The second-hand market is also very dynamic.
More spendthrift than frugal individually, we have not managed collectively to put in place enough economic incentives to drive the required transformation in our transport sector. Despite some measures, such as the rise in the French carbon tax, greenhouse gas emission in the sector greatly exceed the cap set by the national low-carbon strategy, which puts the French contribution in line with the Paris climate agreement targets. In 2016, they exceeded 6%. So there is a shortfall, and the point of no climate return is fast approaching. Winter is coming... and we are not ready to cope.
Solutions do exist however, from a strong change in tax schemes to changes in behaviour, via investment in infrastructure and a profound transformation in our land planning methods. Quite a programme!
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.