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In France, the investments for the climate that will have to be made between now and 2030 to meet the objective are considerable. And since this target will have to be increased to contribute to the new European objective, the need for investment will also increase. Today, the State and public authorities are actively involved in climate-friendly investments. What will happen in the future? Who will pay, who will go into debt: the State, local authorities, taxpayers, households, companies or future generations?

We have asked the candidates to answer this question, to prepare their “climate budget”. It is a question of transparency and credibility. It is also a way to test the coherence of their climate strategy.

So, are the candidates ready? Do they have very different financing strategies – and even more broadly climate strategies? What is the consensus among the candidates? And what are the under-addressed budgetary challenges? Here are the answers to these questions.

Six candidates analysed, soon seven

The I4CE team deciphered the programs of six candidates: Anne Hidalgo, Yannick Jadot, Marine Le Pen, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, Valérie Pécresse and Eric Zemmour. Emmanuel Macron’s will be analysed as soon as it is published, and our decoding will be updated.

In addition to their programs, we have asked these candidates additional questions: Anne Hidalgo, Yannick Jadot, Jean-Luc Mélenchon and Valérie Pécresse have already answered these questions and most of them have made the effort to quantify their budgets more or less precisely. We would like to thank these candidates for the work they have done and the details they have provided. All the elements provided by the teams of these candidates are available on our website (only available in French). The estimates of the financial impact of the proposed measures are theirs, not ours.

The decoding proposed by I4CE does not comment on the feasibility of the measures proposed by the candidates. It assesses the level of preparation of the candidates: have the challenges put forward by I4CE (only available in French) been well identified, are there measures to try to answer them, has the financial impact of these measures been estimated? The decoding also reveals the different strategies of the candidates for the climate, and in particular their financing strategy: their budget for the climate.  I4CE does not claim to say which candidate has the right strategy, for the simple reason that there are several possible strategies. But we would like to point out the shortcomings or the bets of their different strategies.

Climate is absent from the debates, but not from the programs

The climate is not at the heart of the current electoral campaign, to put it mildly. But it is reassuring to note that it is not absent from the programs of the candidates we have deciphered. Apart from Marine Le Pen and Eric Zemmour, whose programs so far contain very few measures to fight climate change, the four other candidates have several proposals and none of them question the objective of reducing French greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. All are even ready to revise it to contribute to the new European objective, which was recently revised upwards.

However, not everyone has a climate budget. Anne Hidalgo, and even more so Yannick Jadot and Jean-Luc Mélenchon, are coming to the polls with proposals that address many of the budgetary challenges identified by I4CE and whose financial impact has been quantified. Valérie Pécresse does not currently have a complete and quantified climate budget, but her team’s response to our questionnaire nevertheless reveals a strategy for financing the transition. Marine Le Pen and Eric Zemmour have neither.

No surprise: contrasting (financing) strategies

To achieve France’s climate objectives, the candidates have different strategies for financing the transition, and more generally for the climate. This was expected. Let’s leave aside Marine Le Pen and Eric Zemmour: they have yet to answer our follow-up questions and there is not enough material in their public programs at this stage to determine their climate budget philosophy. The others differ in the level of state intervention, in budgetary matters but not only.

Valérie Pécresse: minimal state intervention, the bet on private savings

Valérie Pécresse does not explicitly intend to increase public investments and subsidies for the climate, which she makes conditional on the “global budgetary equation” and increased efficiency. She does, however, plan to invest in railways, electric charging stations or nuclear power, investments for which the contribution of public authorities has yet to be specified. Valérie Pécresse clearly favors private investment, but how can households and companies be encouraged to make climate-friendly investments? Her opposition to “punitive ecology” translates into a stability of the current regulatory and fiscal framework, and she prefers to facilitate their access to loans and mobilize private savings, in particular through a “Green Savings Account”.

Is this enough? It is doubtful. In the energy renovation of housing, for example, access to loans is not the main problem, far from it: low-income households are unable to take on more debt, while others also need stronger incentives, technical support and confidence in the quality of the work.

Anne Hidalgo, Yannick Jadot, Jean-Luc Mélenchon: a strong intervention, the bet of acceptability

Jean-Luc Mélenchon assumes a strong intervention of the State. To encourage private actors to invest, he strengthens the regulatory and fiscal framework and accompanies it with a strong increase in public investments and subsidies, an increase of more than 45 billion euros per year. To finance this increase, he wants to review the tax burden on the richest, fight against fraud and tax evasion and is counting on an increase in economic activity. He does not specify at this stage if he intends to increase public debt, but nevertheless plans to stop applying European budgetary rules

Yannick Jadot and Anne Hidalgo also assume a significant interventionism. They strengthen the regulatory and fiscal framework, and accompany it with a significant increase in public investments and co-financing, although less than Jean-Luc Mélenchon: respectively 25 and 14 billion euros per year. Contrary to Jean-Luc Mélenchon, they do not want to stop applying the current European budgetary rules, but to reform them in order to promote investment. In a logic of third-party financing, they also count on public or private operators to advance the costs of renovating housing or even acquiring an electric vehicle, with these operators then reimbursing themselves on the reduction of energy bills or when the housing is resold in the case of renovation.

The climate strategies of Anne Hidalgo, Yannick Jadot and Jean Luc Mélenchon raise three questions of acceptability. The first is the question of tax consent to deal with the increase in public spending. The second is the calibration of financial support: is it sufficient for private actors to cope with the parallel strengthening of the regulatory and fiscal framework? The last one concerns our European partners: are they ready to accept a reform of the budgetary rules?

More surprising, and useful for the future: consensus for the new five-year period

Multi-year budgetary programming, the role of local authorities, adaptation to the inevitable impacts of climate change, the end of subsidies for fossil fuels, transparency on the use of ecological tax revenues, reinforced support for low-income households… A detailed analysis of the programs of the four candidates who have proposals for the climate reveals consensuses. Consensuses that are sometimes surprising, some of which can be analysed as the legacy of the French yellow vests crisis, and which are encouraging: they are all potential reform agendas for the five-year period that is just beginning.

Agenda 1: the future multi-annual budget program

All the candidates are in favor of some form of multi-year budgetary programming for the climate: through a budgetary programming law for the climate, for example, or as part of the usual public finance programming law. A multi-year program is necessary to give visibility to private actors, to be transparent and to debate collectively on its volume, its effectiveness and the major strategic orientations. The first public finance programming law and the future energy-climate programming law will be important moments, from the beginning of the five-year period, to give concrete expression to this idea.

Agenda 2: An end to fossil fuel subsidies and transparency on ecological tax revenues

Legacy of the French yellow vests crisis: the carbon tax will remain frozen. Yannick Jadot is the only one to slightly mention it: he would only like to increase it if there is a “significant” drop in energy prices. All of them, however, want to phase out fossil fuel subsidies, which in France mainly take the form of tax niches on energy and which were brought to the forefront during the 2018 debates on the carbon tax.

In addition, many want to clarify the use that is made of the revenues from the carbon tax or more generally from ecological taxation. The lack of transparency on the use of these revenues had become a point of tension during the French yellow vests crisis, and this clarification is a condition for the acceptability of this tax. Yannick Jadot, Anne Hidalgo and Valérie Pécresse explicitly propose to allocate them to the financing of the transition and to households, in various ways.

Agenda 3: the indispensable support of households, and in particular the most modest

The political class, as well as – let’s face it – a number of experts of which we are a part, became fully aware during the French yellow vest crisis of the concrete difficulties faced by modest households in accessing low-carbon alternatives: inability to buy a low-carbon vehicle, limited access to public transport, impossibility of renovating one’s home without going into heavy debt… If the candidates want to invest in offering alternatives to all households, they also want to better “target” modest households. In the answer to our questionnaire, Valérie Pécresse wants to direct public aid “towards the households and companies most affected by the energy transition” and “link ecological measures and purchasing power” for low-income households. This orientation is nevertheless reflected, at this stage, at the margin in her program. Anne Hidalgo, Yannick Jadot and Jean-Luc Mélenchon have many proposals to target and help low-income households more strongly in the areas of housing renovation, mobility and food.

Agenda 4: local authorities – and their financial resources – at the heart of the transition

The candidates agree on the key role that local authorities must play. Many of their proposals, especially when they require major investments, must be implemented “in collaboration” or “in connection” with local authorities. They sometimes go hand in hand with financing mechanisms – more or less precise and quantified. Valérie Pécresse wants a “decentralization law” that will “entrust local authorities with the corresponding missions and resources in terms of housing renovation or electrification of road transport”, while Anne Hidalgo wants to allocate them a share of the carbon tax and create a “green grant” from the State. However, none of them give an overall figure for what the climate objectives will represent in terms of additional expenditure for local authorities. The next government will have to clarify this point – and the corresponding resources – in a future multi-year budgetary program.

Agenda 5: the emergence of adaptation

Adaptation is a subject that is beginning to be addressed. It is only a beginning, it remains partial, but it is an encouraging sign: France must prepare for the inevitable consequences of climate change, and France is not yet ready. This is reflected in the programs by more or less precise proposals to ensure that long-term public spending (investment in transport infrastructure, urban renewal operations, building construction, etc.) take climate change into account. Yannick Jadot, Anne Hidalgo and Jean-Luc Mélenchon also plan, with different levels of detail, to provide more resources to public bodies that play a key role in adapting to climate change.  Some candidates are also proposing more targeted measures which, without yet constituting an overall vision, identify the first concrete levers of action: Valérie Pécresse, for example, wishes to launch “operational plans for adaptation to climate change, to be carried out with the Regions, to prepare for heat waves, forest fires, rising waters and floods with the support of the State”, while Jean-Luc Mélenchon is planning, in particular, an aid fund for the relocation of buildings threatened by floods and rising sea levels

Other consensuses for the next five years

The decoding of the programs reveals other consensuses on which the next President can rely. In terms of renovation of buildings, all are aware of the need to accelerate the renovation of public buildings and to continue to help households to renovate their homes. To do this, they sometimes promote third-party financing to maximize the leverage effect of public funding, as Anne Hidalgo and Yannick Jadot do. Anne Hidalgo also applies this logic to the acquisition of low-carbon vehicles, which the candidates agree on wanting to support financially. More generally, in terms of transport, they are all aware of the need to invest in rail and public transport, even if their proposals and the distribution of the effort between actors are sometimes vague.

Many candidates also want to improve climate governance, with proposals ranging from an annual vote on a “Climate and Biodiversity Budget”, to the establishment of an independent public body to evaluate laws in terms of climate, through the creation of a “Council for Ecological Planning” and an annual assessment shared with Parliament of the effectiveness of public actions for the climate. The implementation of the carbon adjustment mechanism at European borders, currently under negotiation at the European level, also has consensus, as does the broader issue of taking climate into account in international trade. Lastly, we can mention the convergence of several candidates on the creation of “saving account” to direct French people’s savings towards the transition; or on the need to help French people cope with the rise in energy prices, whether by lowering the VAT on energy, increasing the energy voucher or reforms of the rules governing the European electricity market.

Challenges forgotten during the presidential election will have to be addressed during the five-year term

However, not all of the challenges on which there is a consensus have been sufficiently addressed by all the candidates. This is particularly true of adaptation, a subject that is still emerging. Or the financing of local authorities, which will have to face an increase in their investment and operating expenses for the climate. Other challenges have also been insufficiently addressed by the candidates, and are even the subject of deep disagreement. However, they must be addressed by the next President.

Financing the new energy mix

This is the case for the financing of the energy transition. The candidates obviously have very different visions of the energy mix – and in particular the electricity mix. The opposition between nuclear and renewable energies is prominent in the candidates’ programs. They do not want to finance the same thing, which is normal; but what is less normal is that they are often unclear about who will pay the additional cost of electricity, whether it is nuclear or renewable. Thus, those who promote the revival of nuclear power do not say what the impact will be on consumers’ bills, nor how the State will contribute to the financing of the vast nuclear construction program, if only through capitalization or the public guarantees necessary to help EDF (French national electricity provider) borrow. As for those who promote renewable energies, if they put a figure on the necessary investments, they do not explain what the impact would be on the consumers’ bill and on the amount of the tax “Contribution to the public service of electricity”.

Support for farmers

The candidates have very different visions of what sustainable agriculture and food is, and do not agree on how to finance it. Thus, while Anne Hidalgo, Yannick Jadot and Jean-Luc Mélenchon intend to strongly redirect the Common Agricultural Policy’s subsidies, Valérie Pécresse is counting more on the mobilization of private investors via carbon offsetting, in a logic of payment of farmers for the environmental services they provide to the community.

It is especially in the livestock sector, which is a major emitter of greenhouse gases, that there is the greatest dissensus. While some of them mention the decrease in meat production and consumption and have proposals to support farmers, others do not mention the subject. To date, however, there is no scenario that would allow France to achieve carbon neutrality without a profound transformation of the livestock industry.

The future of the wood industry

Finally, while many candidates talk about the future of the forest and the French wood industry, they tend to overlook the need to develop the production and consumption of long-lasting wood products such as building materials. This development is however essential to store carbon in the long term and thus strengthen the “carbon sink” of France. This is a no-regrets action, whether or not wood harvests increase.

See the climate decoding of the French presidential election (website in French only)

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