“we will have to achieve in seven years a little more than what we have achieved in 32 years”, estimates François Gemenne

Every Saturday, “Zero emissions” with François Gemenne, professor at HEC and member of the IPCC, specialist in climate and migration. This is the new meeting place to decipher climate issues on franceinfo. Saturday September 23 the section of ecological planning.

Élisabeth Borne unveiled, on September 18, the broad outlines of the government’s ecological planning plan. Emmanuel Macron must also detail these announcements on September 25, with one objective in mind: to reduce France’s greenhouse gas emissions by 55% by 2030 compared to 1990.

franceinfo: Does the objective set by the French government seem ambitious to you?

François Gemenne: When we know that so far France has reduced its emissions by 25% compared to 1990, this is clearly ambitious because we will have to achieve in seven years a little more than what we have achieved so far in span of 32 years. It’s not nothing. In the 90s, there was much less concern about the situation. But conversely, it is often the first tonnes which are the easiest to cut. And it’s after that that it becomes much more complicated.

Does this mean that this goal seems impossible to achieve?

Not necessarily, but let’s say that we will have to give ourselves the means. And in this regard, it must be said that the granting of an additional 10 billion is good news, even if we are obviously still far from the goal. What worries me most is how this discussion of ecological planning is focused exclusively on the goals.

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But that’s somewhat normal. If we want to plan, do we set goals?

Obviously, you need objectives. And companies need clear long-term signals to be able to invest.

“Without a clear political line the necessary investments will not be made. Look at what is happening in the United Kingdom.”

François Gemenne, François Gemenne, professor at HEC and member of the IPCC


At the same time as the ecological transition plan is being announced in France, the British Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, announces that he is renouncing commitments that had been made two years earlier by his predecessor, Boris Johnson, at the time of COP 26 in Glasgow, in 2021. Barely two years ago, the United Kingdom’s climate plan appeared to be one of the most ambitious in the world. And today, the United Kingdom appears to be the worst student in the European class.

So what happened in the meantime? Were the objectives too ambitious? However, the color of government policy has not changed.

The problem is that when we set goals, very often, it is for the following. Today, all planning objectives, in France as in Europe, are calibrated to 2030. And whatever happens in 2030, the government will have changed, as will the European Commission. Will the government of 2030 feel accountable for the commitments made by the government of 2023? Will Donald Trump, if he is re-elected to the White House next year, feel accountable for the commitments made by Joe Biden?

But this is a rhetorical question. You obviously know the answer?

Exactly, it’s even worse for carbon neutrality. Many companies have set a carbon neutrality goal for 2050. That’s good, but how many of these companies will still exist in 2050? And it’s even worse in the Paris agreement since we set temperature rise targets by 2100.

“All the heads of state who made this commitment in Paris, at COP 21, knew very well that they would all be dead in 2100.”

François Gemenne


Should we set goals that are closer to us, closer together?

Of course, it’s always easier to make commitments for the next ones. And I believe that we also wanted to calibrate the political objectives on the time horizons of the climate models, since the model made projections for 30 or 50 years. We also set political objectives which corresponded to this time scale. Except that politics and the climate are not at all the same relationship to time.

Wouldn’t we be better off completely giving up on goals and therefore giving up in some way planning the transition?

Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater either. Businesses need clear signals. They need policies that can be sustained over time. And it is clear that any political reversal will create uncertainty. This is catastrophic for investments. But beyond these objectives, we above all need a trajectory. I am very worried about a sort of wave of defeatism which can sometimes sweep through society, that some consider that the objectives are now out of reach, that it is over. If these objectives sometimes appear out of reach, it is because we have drawn the horizon, but we have not traced the path that takes us there. And so, in fact, the more we advance, the further the horizon seems to move away.

What should be done?

We need to do two things. First, we will have to throw all our forces into battle. We will not have to stick to the only objective, this is the law of the economist Charles Godard, when a measure becomes an objective it ceases to be a good measure. We must maximize our efforts.

“When firefighters arrive at a burning building, they do not set themselves the goal of saving 55% of the people inside.”

François Gemenne


They will obviously try to save everyone. I think we need to maximize our efforts. Above all, we must draw a trajectory with markers that allow us to correct the situation if we move away from our objectives and that they are also small victories that motivate us and convince us that we will get there. We are all the same. If you tell me that I’m going to lose ten kilos by 2030, I know very well that I’m going to wait until 2029 before getting started.

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