While its definition is more or less agreed on, the way to reach it is still unclear, if not totally unknown for most decision makers and citizens. In the face of the climate emergency, the changes to be made are of such magnitude that it is essential to speed up the debate on the societal choices to be made, given the time required to make decisions in a democratic framework, as well as the time required to implement them.
For this reason, ADEME wished to bring to the debate four consistent and contrasting reference pathways to take France to carbon neutrality.
This unprecedented forward looking exercise is based on two years work, the involvement of about one hundred ADEME employees and regular discussions with a scientific committee and external partners and service providers, who are specialists in different fields.
Forecast for mainland France, the scenarios are based on the same macroeconomic, demographic and climate change data (+2.1 °C in 2100). They all lead to carbon neutrality for the country, but take different routes and correspond to different societal choices.
Significant changes in the way we travel, heat ourselves, eat, buy and use equipment will occur to achieve carbon neutrality without involving carbon capture and sequestration technologies, which are unproven and uncertain on a large scale.
Society is transformed within the framework of shared governance and regional cooperation. Non-governmental organisations, public institutions, the private sector and civil society find pragmatic ways to cooperate to maintain the social fabric.
Technological development provides more of the answers to environmental challenges than changes towards more moderate consumption patterns or energy sufficiency.
Lifestyles of the early 21st century are safeguarded. But the abundance of goods consumes a great deal of energy and materials with a potentially high environmental impact.
The four pathways presented, each internally consistent, enable France to achieve carbon neutrality in 2050. But they are all difficult and require orchestrated planning of the transformation, involving Central Government, the regions, economic stakeholders and citizens.
Achieving neutrality is based on overcoming some major challenges, both human (behavioural changes) and technological (carbon sinks in particular). All scenarios therefore involve a degree of risk. But not all of them have the same environmental, social and economic consequences.
For all scenarios, it is imperative to act quickly. The socio-technical transformations to be carried out are of such magnitude that they will take time to produce their effects. This decade, a profound transformation in our methods of consumption, land development, technologies and productive investments must be planned and enacted.
Reducing energy demand, itself related to the demand for goods and services, is the key factor in achieving carbon neutrality. The reduction ranges from 23% to 55% compared to 2015 depending on the scenario, each scenario being based on a different balance between energy sufficiency and energy efficiency.
Industry will have to transform itself not only to adapt to a profound change in demand but also to decarbonise production. This will require large-scale investment plans and an effort by all of society to support the regions undergoing change and to train employees in new professions.
The biosphere is one of the main assets of this transition, combining three strategic measures: carbon capture, biomass production and greenhouse gas reduction. It is therefore essential to maintain a balance between food and energy use of biomass with preservation of ecological functions, such as biodiversity and carbon capture, through a global approach to the bio-economy.
Adaptation of forests and agriculture is therefore becoming an absolute priority in combating climate change. The resilience of ecosystems is all the more crucial as they are increasingly being affected by the impact of climate change.
The pressure on natural resources varies considerably from one scenario to another. This is particularly the case for irrigation water or construction materials, where the volumes consumed vary by a factor of two between certain scenarios.
In all scenarios, in 2050 more than 70% of the energy supply is based on renewable energy and electricity is the main energy carrier. However, this can in no way legitimise wasting energy, to reduce pressure on resources.
Energy sufficiency, carbon sinks, diet, the construction industry, the industrial model: whatever society chooses, these 5 issues will have to be the subject of structuring debates.
On 30 November Arnaud Leroy, CEO of ADEME, Valérie Quiniou, Executive Director for Prospective & Research, and David Marchal, Deputy Executive Director Expertise and Programs, presented the report and discussed its main findings. You can view the presentation on YouTube as well as the presentation slides here.
This work is just the first part of a series of publications that will be published between January and March 2022. The collection will then form a whole, which will be put into perspective during the event organised by ADEME "Grand Défi Écologique", (The Great Environmental Challenge) on 29 and 30 March 2022 in Angers.
The subjects of these follow-on publications will be as follows: