France has announced that by 2040 all petrol and diesel vehicles will be banned. This follows the example of Norway who also pledged to ban all fossil fuel-powered cars by 2025. France’s ban is more sweeping than Norway’s, however, as Norway’s ban made no reference to commercial vehicles like vans and lorries. The French Minister of Environment, Energy and Marine Affairs Nicolas Hulot said that “the end of the sale of petrol or vehicles between now and 2040”. This is a fantastic step forward and it shows how some countries in Europe are taking climate change seriously.
As well as making this general statement about a policy objective, Hulot also set out a concrete proposal in how the government would seek to reach this goal. He said that “the government will offer each French person a bonus to replace their diesel car dating before 1997 or petrol from before 2001 by a new or second-hand vehicle”. This is an important statement as in recent years, following a rise in consumer consciousness about the environment and the social strains of economic factors, fossil fuel cars have become efficient and less harmful to the environment.
This will have a lasting impact on the world in a economic sense as well as an environmental one. Two of the largest car companies in the world- the PSA Group and the Renault Group- are based in France and as a result these companies are likely to adapt to this new consumer environment. If this proves to be a true prediction, the technology in these products will become more reliable and less costly, and thus French electric cars will begin effectively competing with traditional fossil fuel-powered vehicles.
If the French government wasn’t as ideologically committed to neoliberal economics, grants could also have been established to part-nationalise these companies so that in order to tackle climate change we wouldn’t have to rely on strategic regulation and hope. Rather, the government would mandate these companies to produce electric cars and heavily invest in emergent technology so that the transition from fossil fuels would take place at a later date. However because the Macron government wishes to maintain France’s capitalist economic system, environmental progress is now handicapped by the ‘wisdom’ of the marketplace.
However the French government’s announcement went further than just addressing the carbon emissions from transport. The French state will also prevent “new project[s] us[ing] petrol, gas or coal” by the same deadline. This very much chimes with French President Emmanuel Macron’s desire to “make our planet great again”. Although most of France’s electricity is generated from nuclear power, the renewed emphasis on clean energy would be a serious game-changer for Europe as the cost of producing solar and wind energy will reduce and challenge the economic power of fossil fuel companies.
This trend has been shown in India and is beginning to be proven in China. Economies of scale across the world are driving down the cost of renewable energy so that in places as environmentally varied as the American Mid West and Tamil Nadu oil, gas and coal are no longer the default choice for electricity generation. This simple law of economics is rapidly reducing the expense of green technology, and hopefully this will result in France’s reduced reliance on nuclear power as well.
The French government’s announcement is a good one and, to be fair, Macron is more committed to tackling climate change than other European leaders. Unlike others on the Left, I have argued that capitalism could solve the current environmental crisis if government initiatives were put in place like state subsidies and strong regulation. However my overall critique of capitalist economics remains as the system is reliant on perpetual consumption. In other words, if we want to prevent lurching between environmental crises that threaten the future of our entire species, capitalism should be abolished.
There is definitely an argument to say that markets are instrumental in undermining the hegemony of fossil fuels, but again capitalism is the factor that is making future crises inevitable. We need to jettison this economic system as, although solutions may be found in a Boserupian sense, future environmental problems will arise if our lust for goods remains the mindset of our societies. Socialism needs to be achieved not because of this potential environmental catastrophe, but because of the others that are coming down the pipeline that this system will precipitate.