France will ban fossil fuel-powered vehicles by 2040

Energy Minister Nicolas Hulot said the country wants to be the world’s “number one green economy.”

An electric BMW i3, foreground left, near the Champs Elysees in Paris. CREDIT: AP Photo/Francois Mori
An electric BMW i3, foreground left, near the Champs Elysees in Paris. CREDIT: AP Photo/Francois Mori

France plans to fully end the sale of fossil fuel-powered vehicles by 2040 in an effort to become a carbon-neutral nation, Energy Minister Nicolas Hulot announced Thursday in Paris.

Aiming to be the world’s “number one green economy,” Hulot said gas and diesel-powered vehicles would be phased out over the course of the next two and a half decades, part of a larger effort to meet targets set by the Paris climate agreement. Coal-fired power plants will be eliminated, Hulot said, and citizens will be encouraged to produce their own energy, especially those who own homes. France will also introduce tax incentives — likely in the form of a pollution tax on aging vehicles, or a tax break tied to the purchase of new, cleaner cars — under the ambitious Climate Plan, in addition to ending oil and gas exploration on French land. While Hulot did not detail how France would enact these plans, he emphasized that the “conditions” necessary to make them happen were clearly laid out by the plan.

Part of French President Emmanuel Macron’s pledge to “make our planet great again,” the announcement comes a month after President Donald Trump announced his intention to withdraw the United States from the Paris agreement — a decision Hulot described a catalyst for France.

“One of the symbolic acts of the plan is that France, which previously had made the promise to divide its greenhouse gas emissions by four by 2050, has decided to become carbon neutral by 2050 following the U.S. decision,” he said. “The carbon neutral objective will force us to make the necessary investments.”

With its recent announcement, France joins a burgeoning global effort to reduce reliance on fossil fuel-powered cars. On Wednesday, Swedish automaker Volvo announced the company would be doing away with gas engines by 2019, phasing in hybrid and electric alternatives — the first major automaker to do so. Volvo’s decision followed the success of companies like Tesla, which exclusively produces electric cars and has outperformed rivals like General Motors on the stock market.

“Our customers are asking more and more about electric cars,” Hakan Samuelsson, chief executive of Volvo, told the New York Times.

While Volvo is based in Sweden, the company is owned by Geely Automobile Holdings, which is based in China, the world’s largest market for electric vehicles. But while Volvo plans to initially produce the cars in China, they will eventually be made in Europe, as well as the United States.

In Norway — one of the largest petroleum producers in Europe — 37 percent of new cars are electric, a number that is expected to reach 100 percent by 2025. Germany and the Netherlands are among other nations working towards banning fuel-burning cars. India, meanwhile, is hoping to be an “all-electric vehicle nation” by 2030.

France’s target might seem modest in comparison, but in a country where electric vehicles make up only 1.2 percent of the market (hybrid cars comprise 3.5 percent), the shift will likely have an outsized impact. With aims to become a carbon-neutral nation by 2050, France’s government is working swiftly to keep the country on track.

Still, not everyone is convinced. Greenpeace welcomed Hulot’s announcement but also offered criticism. “We are left wanting, on how these objectives will be achieved,” the organization said.

Others were far more effusive in their praise. Pascal Canfin, head of WWF France, told France Inter radio that the policy was a welcome shift. “It places France among the leaders of climate action in the world,” he said.