The climate-energy law: an opportunity to de-hysterise the debate

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 The debates concerning the automobile, which since the end of March have involved the examination of the 'climate and resilience' bill, are, at first sight, rather caricatural: the majority is in turn criticised for going much too far and/or not going far enough in view of the 'climate emergency'. Nevertheless, as the deadlines that France and Europe have set for themselves become clearer, the positions taken by all sides in the role-playing that had finally taken place are being called into question and the hope of finally seeing the real issues addressed can be born.

 At least since the Yellow Vests crisis, the idea that the issues of combating pollution and/or global warming are highly conflicting has become clear. Indeed, it is no longer just a matter of politicians announcing their laudable intentions and trumpeting their awareness and commitment to change things only to do nothing in the end.
 
 It is now a question of taking decisions that will have an effective impact on economic and social life and, as we saw with the Climate and Energy Contribution, which the government hoped would be increased painlessly in 2018, the choices to be made are intrinsically political and require the majority to say with whom it is allied and against whom.
In fact, the debate, still rather discreet, which is currently taking place in Parliament on the "Bill to combat climate change and strengthen resilience to its effects" is sorting out the proposals of the citizens' convention between what had been proposed and what the government is actually going to implement.
 
It prompted a series of demonstrations the weekend before the Assembly debates began, already expressing concern about the timidity of the measures adopted and the abandonment of a number of the 149 proposals of the 150 citizens. It also gave rise to more than 5,000 amendments that sought either to tighten up the provisions of the law in line with the convention's proposals or to postpone or lessen their effects. 
The sorting out that was done before the debates to declare these amendments inadmissible or to reject them was strongly criticised because the 'inadmissibility rate' was unusually high and the invocation of Article 45, which is there to avoid 'cavaliers seuls' (i.e. articles presented in the form of amendments to the law without much connection), appeared to some to be rather specious.
 
More generally, as Le Monde points out, 'opposition and majority MPs were confronted with an almost systematic double opinion of the government and the rapporteur on the majority of amendments. Of the 420 or so amendments adopted by the committee, the overwhelming majority (nearly 380) came from government majority MPs (LRM and MoDem), a sign for the opposition that the debate was locked in.  
 
Thus, after having tried to find a form of consensus on these environmental issues thanks to the false good idea of the citizens' convention on which he hoped to be able to back out, E. Macron must once again assume a very Jupiterian dimension and appear infinitely too timid to some while at the same time very unrealistic and/or very ideological to others.
Naturally, the world of car professionals would have tended a few years ago to fall into the second camp in a context where the debate remained - and still remains too often - very favourable to a form of radicalisation.
 
Indeed, the conviction that the car lobby is so powerful that it systematically manages to ensure that all the measures needed to deal with the climate emergency are rejected is very strong among NGOs and a significant proportion of politicians. It leads to discursive strategies of demonisation where the car industry is presented as a 'weapon of mass destruction' and SUVs as 'urban tanks'.  
 
Mentioning jobs in the car industry and/or the dependence of certain territories on this industry can only be blackmail used to deny ecological problems. Similarly, in the face of the debate raised by the EPZs, insisting on the dependence on cars and the inaccessibility of alternatives to internal combustion engines for a very large proportion of the families and companies that use vehicles in the areas concerned would be a guilty duplicity where intermodality, public transport and aid for the acquisition of clean vehicles would already make the prohibitions envisaged in the long term practicable.
In spite of this, it can be noted that the debate, by becoming more concrete, manages to become a little more nuanced and mature.
 
Typically, in this law, as in more general terms, it is becoming clear that the reasoning in terms of CAFE, which has been the reference until now, must evolve in order to deal with the fleets.
 
 Thus, in the LOM, a 20-year perspective was mentioned, which was the end of the marketing of thermal vehicles in 2040. At the same time, the objective of 'carbon neutrality' for land transport by 2050 was affirmed. Knowing the inertia of the fleets and seeing the deadlines approaching, it became increasingly obvious in 2021 that a problem of coherence was going to arise and that it was urgent to set intermediate deadlines for the marketing of new vehicles that would allow us to hope that the 2050 objective would be reached.
 
This reasoning in terms of the fleet is undeniably a step forward in the debate. It has the great merit of forcing everyone to be consistent, but the downside is that it almost automatically leads to the setting of much more demanding intermediate targets in terms of CAFE. 
 
This is what the law does - albeit timidly - in Article 25 by proposing that no private vehicle may be registered from 1 January 2030 if it emits more than 123 g of CO2 per km in WLTP (95 g in NEDC). This is a translation by the LREM parliamentarians of the Convention's proposal to impose this from 2025.
It is contested by M. Orphelin and D. Batho, who support the Convention's position and believe that industry needs a direction and visibility and that the very restrictive nature of the 2050 objective must be perceptible well before 2030 to have any chance of being achieved.  
 
Indeed, the average age of vehicle scrappage has been steadily increasing in Europe and France as vehicles have become more reliable and average mileage has fallen. It is now closer to 20 years than to 15 and is reflected in average fleet ages that are well over 10 years in Europe. 
For this reason, the massive electrification of registrations must be ensured for 2030 if the 2050 objective is to be achieved and it must therefore either be said that we will not be able to achieve the objective or it must be made clear that the -37.5% in CAFE set by Brussels for 2030 will have to be revised.
 
It is not in 2030 that the issue will need to be examined, it is now and the objective that LREM has set for itself in the law continues to adopt an attitude that consists of postponing decisions that might cause offence. From this point of view, politically, it is almost curious to accept to question the right to mobility of the most fragile through the EPZs and then to refuse to question the right of buyers of new cars to equip themselves with polluting vehicles (and/or of manufacturers to sell them).
 
For the downstream professions, it is a victory to see the public authorities finally thinking in terms of fleet, use and maintenance. It consists of a full recognition of both the realities of the car industry as experienced by the population and the role that, as garages, technical controllers, rental companies, etc., they play alongside them, well beyond the supplementary role of the manufacturers that they play by selling new vehicles. 
 
By protesting against the prohibition of powerful and polluting vehicles, the car service professionals would confuse their message and risk losing this major political achievement which is now bearing fruit. 
In the current discussion, the MEPs whose amendments are being debated often relay suggestions from the downstream professions that intend to participate in achieving the 2050 objective: helping to control and maintain vehicles, playing its part in promoting short-term or long-term EV leasing, structuring the used vehicle market and the EV renovation activity quickly and effectively, participating in the installation of charging stations, proposing retrofit solutions, and offering diversified mobility solutions, such are the proposals that fall within this framework. 
They indicate that in 2021 we are better able to escape the front-on-front battle.
 
06/04/2021

 

 

The weekly column by Bernard Jullien is also on www.autoactu.com.

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