PARIS (Reuters) - President Nicolas Sarkozy promised a green revolution on Thursday, unveiling a mix of tax measures and investment pledges that he said would put France in the vanguard of the war against global warming.
“France isn’t late but France wants now to be in the lead,” he said in a speech wrapping up a special environmental policy conference seeking ways to cut greenhouse gas emissions and help change attitudes to the environment.
The congress was one of the highest profile green initiatives ever launched in France and fulfilled an election campaign promise by Sarkozy, who has said his government will emphasize sustainable development.
The French president pledged investments to improve energy efficiency in buildings, as well as measures to encourage greener vehicles in a package that was welcomed by France’s main farmers’ lobby and by green groups.
“There’s undoubtedly ambition there, there’s a cultural change at state level” said Yannick Jodiot, program director at Greenpeace France. “But unfortunately there’s still too much ambiguity there for us not to keep being extremely vigilant.”
France has long lagged behind Germany and Scandinavian countries in promoting environmental innovation but, with former U.S. Vice President and Nobel Peace Prize winner Al Gore sitting alongside, Sarkozy faced high expectations.
Sarkozy said he would order the suspension of commercial cultivation of crops genetically modified to repel pests, pending a wider study and asked the agriculture minister to look at halving the use of farm pesticides “if possible” in 10 years.
Further consultations will be held before the end of the year and parliament is expected to legislate in the first half of next year.
He steered clear of promising a generalized “carbon tax” that some environmental organizations had wanted but unveiled a series of fiscal measures to punish polluting vehicles and bolster the fight against greenhouse gases.
“I am against any extra tax that would weigh on households and companies,” he said. “There is no question of increasing the level of taxes.”
However, he pledged to tax trucks crossing France and revived an idea floated by his predecessor Jacques Chirac that would impose higher taxes on products imported from countries that did not respect the Kyoto Protocol on global warming.
He proposed lowering value added tax on more environmentally friendly products and pledged to consider wider changes later.
“Environmental fiscal measures should not be resumed in a collection of little taxes. We need a profound revision. The aim is to tax pollution, notably fossil energy more heavily and to tax work less,” he said.
“I’m committed to a general revision to our tax laws to consider the creation of a climate energy tax in exchange for a lightening of tax on labor to preserve our competitiveness.”
Sarkozy pledged to maintain France’s nuclear energy capacity, responsible for about 80 percent of its power output, but also promised to increase the proportion generated from renewable sources such as wind and solar energy.
He also announced a move to shift the millions of trucks that cross France away from highways and on to waterways and special cross-country trains, such as one launched this year between Luxembourg and Perpignan, near the Spanish border.