French President Emmanuel Macron took office in 2017 at age 39 with promises to bring venture capital and a new tech industry to France. The president, who comes from a banking background, also pushed for ambitious environmental reforms across industries. His economic and trade policies incentives growth in renewable energy, and have created high ESG standards for France’s trading partners.
Macron’s ambitions suffered a reality check in late 2018 when violent protests erupted in Paris. The so-called yellow-vest dissidents, who organized on social media, complained that Macron’s economic measures ignored the problems of the middle class and the working poor, in favor of
urban elites. Macron was forced to suspend a fuel tax increase designed to curtail fossil fuel use; his retreat suggested that carbon taxes could face populist headwinds.
Macron and the Paris Climate Agreement
The Paris Climate Agreement was enacted before Macron took office, but in his time as president, he’s been a fierce supporter. He has routinely emphasized the importance of signatory parties accomplishing their stated goals to reduce emissions. He’s also made participation a prerequisite for trade with France.
In September 2018, he told the UN General Assembly, “We will no longer sign commercial agreements with powers that do not respect the Paris accord.” Macron emphasized that this stance was to “guarantee fair competition on equal footing”—ensuring that greener industry wouldn’t be at a disadvantage when it comes to trade.
“Trade agreements should be… a way of spreading our standards. Anyone who signs an agreement with the EU should be committing to put the Paris Agreement into practice,” he said at a conference on sustainable finance in March 2018.
Raising the Price of Carbon
Within the European Union, Macron has pushed his fellow leaders to move more quickly toward greener industry and renewable energy sources. His solution: raise the price on carbon emissions. One of the EU’s most significant policies to fight climate change has been an emissions trading scheme, in which businesses must pay a tax for each ton of carbon dioxide they release into the atmosphere. While individual countries have set their own prices for carbon thus far, setting a high price that would apply across the EU has proven difficult. Macron has advocated for a continent-wide price well over €30 per ton.
In the meantime, he’s made France a model for raising the price on carbon emissions. In 2018, he declared that in 2022, France would increase the price of carbon emissions generated domestically to €84 per ton. This change aims to incentivize industries to develop greener technologies in order to reduce their own emissions and avoid paying into the costly scheme.
According to Macron, the higher price for carbon must also come with a tax on imports from countries with poor emissions standards—incentivizing a shift to sustainable practices outside the EU as well. Speaking about the need to raise the bar on the price for carbon, Macron told leaders of other EU member states, “If in the years ahead, we don’t have a significant price of carbon per ton to allow for a profound change in our economies, then it would be worthless.”
But the protests in Paris against his fuel tax surcharge and other initiatives perceived as elitist portend challenges for leaders like Macron who are willing to take the long view on climate change.
International Solar Alliance
In March 2018, the International Solar Alliance held its first summit, convening representatives from 36 countries in New Delhi to discuss ambitious plans to expand the use of solar power around the globe. As a leading voice within the alliance, Macron announced at the summit that France would contribute €700 million to the alliance to help fund solar energy projects in developing nations. This was in addition to the €300 million France had already committed, making its total contribution over €1 billion.The alliance has a goal of producing 1 trillion watts of solar power by the year 2030. So far, 32 countries have ratified the treaty that set this goal, with an additional 29 signatories as well. While Macron expressed pride in what the alliance has accomplished so far, he’s not easing up on his ambitious goals for expanding renewable energy. “We need to remove all obstacles and scale up” solar energy production, he told summit attendees.