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Paris’ march to carbon neutrality

To honour its climate change commitments, Paris aims to be totally carbon neutral by 2050 – are its plans an example for all city governments to follow or overly ambitious?

Pauline Bock, Freelance journalist
15 February 2019

To honour its climate change commitments, Paris aims to be totally carbon neutral by 2050 – are its plans an example for all city governments to follow or overly ambitious?

In 2050, Paris will still be the City of Lights – but its glow will be powered by green energy. That is, at least, the French capital's "Climate action plan": by 2050, the city plans to be fully carbon neutral.

Anne Bringault, an energy transition manager for Climate Action Network, views the plan as "very ambitious", but necessary for the City of Paris to achieve its climate targets. "Long-term measures are very important to [help] set clear goals," she says. "They allow for a rhythm to be found in the shorter term. First, we get rid of old diesel cars, then all diesel cars, then all fuel cars." An ambitious plan sends a message to Parisians and allows them to adjust their consumption, she adds.

Since her 2014 election, Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo has vowed to "free" Parisians from cars. Vehicles that pollute most, such as older diesel cars, will be banned from Paris as soon as July this year. But not all green policies have been successful. The pedestrianisation of the right bank of the River Seine created anger. "Parisians saw it as a positive project," says Bringault. "But the opposition came from the suburbs, whose residents often drive to or through the capital to work."

Three steps Paris is taking on the road to carbon neutrality

Renovating buildings

Paris’ building stock is energy-inefficient: 80% of it predates the introduction of the first thermal regulations in 1974. The city council is already renovating 300 schools, and by 2030 it aims to reduce the energy consumption of its entire building stock by 40%. To meet the 2050 target, 1 million private dwellings and 646.8m ft2 (60m m2) of businesses, offices, hotels and public facilities must also be thermally renovated – that’s 75% of all Parisian buildings. “Eco-loans” and special tax credits will be offered by the city for private renovations.

Expanding solar

About 50,000 solar panels already adorn Parisian roofs. The Halle Pajol, a community centre clad in 37,700 ft2 (3,500 m²) of solar panels, is fully self-sufficient. Since 2016, all lighting in municipal buildings must be supplied with 100% renewable electricity. The city plans to install a large-scale solar power plant in the park of Bois de Vincennes by 2020 and, by 2050, the aim is for 20% of Paris’ buildings to be equipped with solar panels – that’s about 64.6m ft2 (6m m2).

Banning cars

For a few days in 2015, Paris was the most polluted city in the world after a particularly bad rise in air pollution. In response, mayor Anne Hidalgo organised a “car-free day”, which made around 30% of the city centre off-limits to vehicles. Since then, she has launched “Paris Breathes”, which bans traffic from the city centre on the first Sunday of every month. If she is re-elected in 2020, Hidalgo will extend the ban to every Sunday. The City of Paris’ fleet of staff cars has already been reduced by one-third since 2011, and should be only composed of electric or hybrid vehicles by 2020.

The city's 2050 plan, a result of a year-long public consultation, comprises 500 measures to act on promises made at the COP21 climate change conference, held in Paris in 2015. "There has been a very precise evaluation of what a carbon-neutral Paris means in terms of renovating buildings, transforming mobility, and producing renewable energy," Bringault explains.

To be fully carbon neutral by 2050, Paris must reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 25% by 2020 and halve them by 2030. To achieve this, it plans to thermally renovate buildings by insulating walls to reduce energy consumption, use more energy-efficient technology, and ban diesel cars by 2024 and all fuel cars by 2030 (box, right). At the same time, the city will increase renewable energy consumption from 25% in 2020, to 45% in 2030 and 100% in 2050. But all this will still only lead to an 80% cut in emissions, according to the city's 2050 plan. Full neutrality will only be achieved by carbon offsetting, through the acquisition and management of up to 10,000 km2 of woodland, the plan claims.

Paris may be focusing on the upcoming few decades but Bringault warns that, in doing so, the city must not forget its neighbours: "If Paris wants to reduce traffic," she says, "it needs to work with the suburbs and the greater Paris authorities."

  • This article originally appeared in the February 2019 edition of Modus