Sustainability Week 2013: how to build France’s energy transition

Summary

The 10th French Sustainability Week is being held right now all over the country, bringing together the Ministry of Ecology and a variety of public and private actors to discuss the question of energy transition – a major social, economic, environmental and political issue for the country.

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This week, between 1 and 7 April, the French Ministry of Ecology is holding Sustainability Week (Semaine du développement durable) for the 10th year in a row. It aims to make the best sustainability practices and initiatives known to the general public via a variety of events being organised all over the country. A few months ago on the event’s website, the Ministry launched a call for projects to “encourage the organisation and promotion of events around sustainability”: schools, universities, associations, local authorities and public bodies but also private companies were invited to submit projects, and thus take an active part in Sustainability Week:

As a result, 4,130 projects are being organised in France this week, including film screenings, talks and debates, biodiversity tours and special events (pharmacies are promoting medicine sorting, stores are having a “plastic bag free week”, etc.).

These projects will act as an awareness campaign on environmental issues, as well as a platform for sharing the best practical solutions.

 

Energy transition: the issue of the year

 

But this year’s Sustainability Week also has more of a political dimension, focusing on energy transition at a time when a National Debate is currently being held by the Ministry of Ecology on the subject. As the Minister Delphine Batho puts it in the National Debate’s guidebook (in French),

energy transition is the transition from a society based on fossil fuels consumption to a society that is more sober and more ecological. (…) (…) We must move towards an energy model that can satisfy the energy needs of French citizens and the French economy in the most durable, equitable and safe way possible. We have to invent a new model: a fairer one, which creates jobs and economic activity.

The debate is complex, as it covers three main issues, she explains. There is an ecological urge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and deal with environmental and sanitary impacts. There is also an economic obligation to reduce the country’s energy dependence on foreign oil-producing countries, gain competitiveness and create jobs. Finally, there is a social aspect, which is already a major centre of attention in the public debate: energy prices must be controlled, in order to fight increasing fuel poverty. France really must get working on the issue, as a series of commitments have been made or demanded by the European Union: by 2020, the country must have reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 20%, achieved 20% energy savings and raised the share of renewable energies to 20% too. President Hollande has also committed to reducing the share of nuclear power from 75% to 50% by 2025.

 

Encouraging everyone to do their bit

 

To encourage everyone to do their bit by raising general awareness of the subject, this year Sustainability Week is endorsing the issue of energy transition alongside the National Debate. Sustainability Week actually began with three days called “Les Journées de l’énergie” (the “Energy days”) which saw energy-producing companies open their doors and explain their work to the public. But energy-producing companies do not bear the sole responsibility for achieving the energy mix the French government is aiming for; as we explained in a previous article, companies also can and must strive to favour energy sources that are more respectful of the environment and people, and also improve competitiveness. The Ministry of Ecology insists that the issue of energy transition must be endorsed by all the actors in society, and that co-creation will enable suitable solutions to be found and implemented. Sustainability Week is here to encourage everyone to do their bit, and to do it long-term.

 

N.B. The general issue of human environmental impact is of course not unique to France, and many countries are holding Sustainability Weeks of their own. Note that the European Union will be organising its Sustainable Energy Week from 24-28 June 2013.

To learn more about energy transition, you can also read our summary of the speech on the Third Industrial Revolution, made by Jeremy Rifkin at the Planetworkshops in Évian. In addition, energy transition will be the next topic of the Planetworkshops Global Conference (3, 4 and 5 June 2013) in partnership with UNESCO and under the honourable patronage of Mr François Hollande, President of the French Republic.

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