In France, the shutdown of nuclear power plants slows down the drop in CO2 emissions

La centrale nucléaire de Cattenom.

Published on Sep 30, 2022 at 7:30 am

The shutdown of dozens of nuclear reactors already has a climate cost for France. The first provisional estimates of greenhouse gas emissions published Thursday by Citepa, the organization responsible for precisely counting these discharges which cause the warming of the Earth’s atmosphere, suggest that over the first six months of the year, the emissions hardly fell (-0.6% across all sectors excluding carbon sinks, to 213.2 million tonnes of CO equivalent2). A disappointing result, while as part of its national low carbon strategy (SNBC), France has set itself the objective of reducing its emissions by 40% between 1990 and 2030.

Two sectors in particular recorded a sharp increase in their emissions in the first half. In the lead, discharges related to energy production rose by 7.6% and are close to 24 million tonnes. The reason is to be found on the side of electricity production: France has indeed turned to gas to produce it and compensate for “the many shutdowns of nuclear power plants in 2022”, underline the experts of Citepa.

Post-Covid and energy crisis

In transport, emissions also increased by 7%. It is emissions from gasoline-powered vehicles – whether cars, heavy goods vehicles or two-wheelers – and those from French air transport that have recorded the highest increases. A surprising result, while fuel prices have jumped. “Two opposing factors were able to compete, the continuation of the post-Covid rebound in 2020 of resumption of activity and the energy crisis in 2022”, advances the organization, which notes that the post-Covid rebound effect has therefore been more powerful.

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Conversely, other sectors saw their emissions drop significantly over one year. In buildings, tertiary and residential combined, they fell by 12.5%. “We can note that the winter severity indices for the first months of 2022 are less strong than those for the first months of 2021”, point out the experts, who also see a “possible impact of the energy crisis in the second quarter”.

In fact, the impact of the energy crisis is being strongly felt. It would largely explain the 5.2% decline in discharges from the manufacturing industry and construction. The Citepa anticipates an even more marked effect in the second half, with a number of gas- and electricity-intensive factories idling.

A 10% drop since 2017

Last year, mainland France and overseas France emitted 418 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent, an increase of 6.4% but which corresponded to a catch-up effect, after an exceptional year in 2020 (fall of 9.6 % of emissions) marked by the Covid crisis, confinements and the cessation of many activities, as well as – already – a mild winter.

However, emissions in 2021 remained down by 3.8% compared to 2019, and by 9.7% compared to 2017 “due to a set of factors: economic, structural, effects of policies and regulations”, specified the Citepa. One notable point, however, is that the emissions associated with imports, which represent about half of the country’s carbon footprint, are not accounted for.


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