Four months before the French presidential elections, ADEME is challenging the candidates about their national energy and climate strategy

Olivier ABULI, advice and analyses consultant

December 13, 2021

After the publication of the IPCC synthesis for decision-makers and the European Commission proactive "Fit For 55" energy-climate package, ADEME has just made a national contribution to the public debate that completes the understanding of possible scales and futures.

A forward-looking exercise has been built around four strategic scenarios : « Transition(s) 2050, Choosing Now » required the expertise of more than 200 contributors over two years. Each of the presented hypotheses constitutes a trajectory for containing global warming below the 2°C threshold by achieving carbon neutrality in 2050.

As they are anchored in the reality of France, they are based on a few constants : diversification and strong growth in the use of electrification and biomass, massive renovation of housing, use of digital technology and artificial intelligence, etc... But beyond this unavoidable foundation, each narrative corresponds to a true societal choice impacting ways of production and consumption, right down to the evolution of eating habits.

However, in order to stay on course for 2050, we will have to choose within the next five years - in terms of development, research and technology - the decisive options that will transform the daily lives of the French people in the long run.

The five transverse and unavoidable elements of the equation

Once the reflection has narrowed down to the national level, five issues call for special territorial attention. As there are interdependent, they combine and open or close paths according to a delicate positioning of the cursors.

What is the sustainability of these approaches through sobriety ?

Different kinds of energy and consumer sobriety will be imposed on everyone in the coming years. This is unavoidable, since it means drastically reducing the share of fossil fuels and non-renewable raw materials in the economy. But to what extent ? Or, more precisely, at what pace ? Today in this France that exhibits urban sprawl and the energy insecurity of 12 million inhabitants, ADEME insists on the risks of social divisions and violence and recommends efforts to achieve graduation and solidarity in the policies to be implemented.

Carbon sinks, natural and/or technological ?

Natural carbon sinks are quite efficient and essential. They should therefore be preserved and even reinforced by reforestation actions. But they are also vulnerable to climate change and their long-term resilience is uncertain.

The use of biomass energy with CO2 capture and storage (BE-CCS) therefore seems to be necessary, especially since there are still many uncertainties about the technologies for capturing CO2 in the ambient air (DACCS).

What will change regarding food diets ?

The doubling of global food needs projected for 2050 is a major issue that is at the crossroads of health, water and soil quality maintenance, biodiversity preservation and fight against the progressive man-made landscaping of primary forest areas.

Alternative agricultural and food models can be imposed, but only if they are intelligently and coherently articulated with the other sensitive dimensions of transitions (land use, level of biomass exploitation, natural carbon capture).

Rethinking the building economy

Here are the figures caracterising the building industry in France : nearly 50% of national energy consumption and 25% of GHG emissions, 30% of household budgets, 51 million tons of construction materials used per year. The choices made in this sector will have major economic and industrial consequences.

Massive renovation and alternative ways of building ; optimizing the recycling of raw materials and the recovery and reuse of construction waste are some particularly important avenues for optimization and energy savings in this sector.

Defining a new low-carbon industrial model

The need to relocate part of our industrial sites in France is now generally shared for reasons of independence, resilience and sovereignty. It is also a question of limiting and controlling the relocation of carbon emissions. Nevertheless, reversing the logic of 30 years of tertiarisation and economic globalization will not be achieved without delay and impact.

For ADEME experts, the success of a competitive re-industrialisation policy depends on two complementary models :
- a qualitative production, more expensive but sustainable, based on recycling and circularity ;

- a more quantitative production whose balances would be based on energy efficiency and the decarbonisation of processes.

Four transition scenarios for four different ways of life

Amongst the scenarios and narratives proposed by the Agency, the first and the fourth one classically constitute the "extremes" of the exercise. Although intellectually conceivable, they are each based on a somewhat risky "gamble" : on the one hand, the limits of social acceptance, on the other hand, the uncertainty regarding