France is serious about carbon: will stop using coal by 2023, might carbon tax US goods if US pulls out of climate agreements

SULPHUR_OLIN_MATHIESON_CHEMICAL_PLANTFrance will shut down all of their coal power plants by 2023, French President Francois Hollande has announced.  The announcement took place at COP22, the UN’s annual climate change conference happening now in Marrakech.

France has been a leader in non-polluting electricity sources for a long time, with 95% low-carbon sources and 77% nuclear power (page 4, data from 2014), but they still use some fossil fuels for electricity, getting 3% of their power from coal through the month of November so far.  Given that their share of coal for electricity generation has been dropping since the 60s and is now a fairly small amount, it seems likely that France will easily meet their goal of eliminating the power source by 2023.

France is also a world leader in electric cars, with 1.2% market share nationwide as of 2015, which is higher than all other countries except Norway, the Netherlands and Sweden.

Given France’s tough stance on carbon, ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy suggested earlier this week that if the US pulls out of the Paris climate agreement which was reached at least year’s COP21 conference, as the next US president has suggested he might do, France should apply a “carbon import tax” to all US goods.

A “carbon tax,” where emitters would be charged some amount for the carbon they emit in proportion to the amount of social damage being done, is a popular idea among policymakers with near-universal acceptance among economists and environmentalists.  Several countries are considering implementing a price on carbon in order to stay within the 2ºC/1.5ºC targets set by last year’s Paris agreement.  There is a real cost to carbon emissions, but currently that cost is paid by society as a whole, rather than by those who emit carbon.  By implementing a carbon price, this would help to correct the $5.3 trillion yearly worldwide implicit subsidy which carbon-emitting sources benefit from.

While import tariffs are generally frowned upon by economists these days and are very rare between advanced economies, Sarkozy’s statement is perhaps partially a response to the next US president’s policy proposals, among which are large protectionist import tariffs, in contrast to the decades-long international trend away from trade barriers.

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Jameson has been driving electric vehicles since 2009, and has been writing about them and about clean energy for since 2016.

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