Best practices and challenges for effective climate governance frameworks : A case study on the French experience

, par  Andreas Andreas Rüdinger

L’objectif de cette étude de cas est de proposer un éclairage supplémentaire sur la mise en place d’un cadre national efficace de gouvernance du climat à travers un examen approfondi de l’exemple français. Pour dresser un tableau complet et bien comprendre les enseignements tirés pouvant servir à d’autres pays, l’étude aborde trois questions de recherche :
• Comprendre l’économie politique de la transition
• Évaluer les éléments clés du cadre de gouvernance
• Quels sont les défis spécifiques liés à la mise en œuvre concrète du cadre juridique ?

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Andreas Rüdinger : Best practices and challenges for effective climate governance frameworks : A case study on the French experience
Andreas Rüdinger : Meilleures pratiques et défis de la mise en place de cadres efficaces de gouvernance du climat. Étude de cas de l’expérience française – Présentation & messages clés
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Andreas Rüdinger, Institut du développement durable et des relations internationales, mai 2018, 38 pages

Ci-dessous : Key Messages | Table of contents | Executive Summary

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The development of robust climate governance frameworks on the national level is a core challenge for the implementation for the Paris climate Agreement. With many countries currently developing or revising their own legal frameworks, this report takes a look at the lessons learned from the French experience. In order to provide an in-depth understanding, this study pursues a twofold-approach, considering both the political process leading up to the adoption of the French Energy Transition Law and the assessment of the substance in terms of targets, policy instruments and governance processes.


Qualified as a “world leader” by the IEA, the French climate governance framework also came first in a recent WWF survey on low-carbon strategies in Europe. Indeed, it integrates all the core ingredients for effective climate policy such as legally binding targets, an economy-wide carbon price signal and strong governance mechanisms to ensure effective planning in line with the long-term ambition.


Regarding the compatibility with the Paris Agreement, the French experience offers key insights for other countries. First of all, the 2017 revision of the French long-term target (heading for climate neutrality by 2050) illustrates how the ratchet-effect can be implemented in practice on the national level. Similarly, the French case highlights the importance of going beyond a policy approach focused on the energy sector alone, in order to develop a deep-decarbonization strategy that addresses all economic sectors, including agriculture, waste and forestry.


Nevertheless, several lessons can be learned from the challenges France is facing in the actual implementation of its low-carbon strategy over the last years, showing that the devil lies in the details. This is particularly the case with regard to the importance of streamlining monitoring, evaluation and revision processes for the National Low-Carbon Strategy in order to address potential implementation gaps. And the importance of granting a clear policy mandate and resources for independent institutions such as the Expert Committee for the Energy Transition.

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1.1. The French energy system at a glance
1.2. The historic structure of energy policies in France
1.3. The emergence of the energy and climate policy nexus
1.4. Towards an energy transition strategy : the 2013 national debate


2.1. The legislative process
2.2. The results : the general framework provided by the law
2.3. The new French climate and energy planning tools
2.4. The National Low-Carbon Strategy
2.5. The Multiannual Energy Plan


3.1. The robustness and institutional design of the governance framework
3.2. Effectiveness in driving the process of longterm decarbonization



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Starting in 2012, France has developed a very ambitious national climate governance framework over the last 5 years. The policy process leading to this began with a comprehensive stakeholder debate in 2012 and 2013, based on an electoral promise by the newly elected President François Hollande : gathering over 120 stakeholders and various experts over 8 months with the aim of defining a collective vision for the energy transition in France. Beyond the preparation of the subsequent Energy Transition Law, the debate also introduced a new way of policymaking in the climate and energy field, building on permanent stakeholder consultations and the inclusion of independent expertise. Based on the outcomes of this debate, the Energy Transition Law was adopted in 2015, including mid- and long-term targets for energy and climate policy (see Table 1), as well as the main governance tools to plan and implement the low-carbon transition until 2050 :
An economy-wide carbon price signal, with a pricing trajectory (€44.6 per ton of CO2 in 2018, reaching €100 by 2030) to enhance credibility and certainty for investors ;
The implementation of binding national carbon budgets set in advance for three 5-year periods and revised every 5 years ;
The elaboration of new national planning documents to steer the transition. First and foremost, the “National Low-Carbon Strategy”, which contains the carbon budgets and provides recommendations for all major economic sectors, in line with the 2050 decarbonization objective. Secondly, the Multiannual Energy Plan, which provides a more detailed action plan for the transformation of the energy sector over 10 years, addressing the deployment of renewable energies, energy efficiency, security of supply and market integration.
The creation of new dedicated institutions to govern the low-carbon transition, including the set-up of a permanent stakeholder committee (the National Council for the Ecological Transition) and an independent Expert Committee for the Energy Transition.
 As a major innovation, the French law also contains new reporting obligations for financial institutions to integrate the assessment of climate-related risks and the evaluation of the carbon footprint of their assets.

Based on this new comprehensive approach, the International Energy Agency recently stated that France had become a “world leader” in designing an effective national climate governance framework (IEA, 2017). And the WWF put France ahead of all other EU countries in its report on the assessment of EU low-carbon development strategies (WWF, 2017). While more and more countries are in the process of developing or revising their own strategic framework in line with the ambition of the Paris Agreement, the French experience can serve as an inspiration regarding both best practices and the identification of major challenges in the process of establishing and implementing such a framework.

This case study aims to provide additional insights on the establishment of an effective national climate governance framework through an extensive case study of the French experience. In order to provide a full picture and understanding of the lessons learned for other countries, the study addresses three research questions :
1) Understanding the political economy behind the transition : what have been the key political processes and milestones to establish the national framework ? How have different groups of stakeholders been engaged in the process ? And how have structural conflicts been overcome to achieve a common vision and push ambition further ?
2) Assessing the key elements of the governance framework : to what extend does the French case present all the key ingredients for an effective climate governance framework, including targets, dedicated institutions and clear governance processes ?
3) What are the specific challenges related to the actual implementation of the legal framework ? Even though the legal framework can be perfect on paper, implementation often remains a challenge and shows the need to pay attention to details, when it comes to compliance, establishing effective monitoring and evaluation processes and the set-up of dedicated institutions.

In the following sections, the key insights of the French case study on each of these three research questions are summarized briefly.

The genesis of the climate governance framework : understanding the political economy

Although policy processes are intimately linked to the history, institutions and specific circumstances of each country, several guiding insights can be drawn from the French experience :

Identifying and creating windows of opportunities

The French experience shows how specific windows of opportunities can be seized to establish an ambitious climate policy. In France, what started as a political debate on the future of nuclear energy in the wake of the Fukushima accident (March 2011) eventually became the catalyzer of a comprehensive debate on the establishment of a strategic vision for a low-carbon future, thanks to the political capital invested by key actors and heavy commitment of stakeholders.

Strengthening stakeholder participation through dedicated institutions

Coming from a very centralized and top-down culture of policymaking in the energy and climate field, the French experience illustrates how the progressive integration of stakeholders and independent experts can make a difference when dealing with structural conflicts and building a more transparent and inclusive policy process.
Building on earlier experience such as the 2007 Grenelle Summit for the Environment, the National Debate on the Energy Transition succeeded in installing a new culture for the elaboration of climate and energy policies with significantly higher transparency and commitment through the continuous involvement of stakeholders and independent experts. Based on this success, the 2015 Energy Transition Act has set up new dedicated institutions to ensure a permanent representation of both stakeholders (through the National Council for the Ecological Transition) and independent experts (with the Expert Committee for the Energy Transition) in all phases of the policy process, which is a key driver to increase transparency and compliance by establishing counterpowers.

Fostering commitment through an inclusive political narrative : benefits and equity

Overcoming the structural conflict on nuclear power that threatened to overthrow the policy process from the very start, the French actors managed to progressively build a collective vision on the urgency of an ambitious climate strategy and the need for an ambitious long-term decarbonization target. In this regard, the French debate managed to build a collective understanding and narrative on the economic and social benefits of the low-carbon transition, necessary to bring along key stakeholders and policy makers.
This also highlights the importance of establishing an agenda on the just transition to deal with potential social conflicts arising in the process of transformation. Providing a clear vision on how this process will benefit all actors is essential, as is the elaboration of transition strategies (and possibly compensation schemes) for economic sectors that could be threatened by the low-carbon transition.

Key design features for an effective climate governance framework

France represents a best-practice example, insofar as all major pillars of the “toolbox” required to fulfill the ambition of the Paris Agreement are addressed in one single legislation, from longterm targets to key policy instruments (such as the economy-wide carbon pricing trajectory until 2030 or the establishment of binding carbon budgets) and the definition of clear governance processes to elaborate, monitor and revise the national lowcarbon plan. The following lessons can be drawn from the French 2015 Energy Transition Act :

Establishing a genuinely comprehensive climate framework

A key lesson that can be drawn from the French experience relates to the challenge of building a legal framework that encompasses all major fields of climate policy, with two important pitfalls to avoid. Firstly, escaping the temptation of establishing a strategy that addresses the energy sector alone, without providing a clear decarbonization pathway for the economy as a whole, including key sectors such as agriculture, land-use and forestry. The Law thus includes planning tools that address all sectors and their feasible transformation pathways out to 2050.
Secondly, the importance of going beyond the definition of targets alone : the French Energy Transition Law can undoubtedly be considered a best-practice example in this regard, insofar as it incorporates all the key features for a robust and effective climate governance into a comprehensive legal framework :
• Clear and binding targets for 2020, 2030 and 2050 ;
• An economy-wide carbon price signal with a clear pricing trajectory until 2030 to provide visibility for investment decisions ;
• The definition of clear governance processes to elaborate, monitor and revise the national lowcarbon and energy plans, including the participation of stakeholders at all levels. These plans provide important strategic policy orientations to guide policy implementation and enables a focus on enabling conditions for going beyond short and medium-term targets.
• The set-up of dedicated institutions such as a permanent stakeholder committee (the National Council for the Ecological Transition) and a high-level expert commission to increase transparency and provide independent expertise for the policy process.
Nevertheless, the French Energy Transition Act also illustrates the risk of overloading climate legislation. Rather than sticking to the key pillars of the climate governance framework, the French law included a variety of very technical measures which significantly increased its complexity and partly explain the length and difficulty of the legislative adoption process : the French climate law took 2 years from its initial draft to its final adoption, including 5,000 amendments and 150 hours of public debate.

Fixing the right level of ambition : the importance of an adaptive framework

Legally binding long-term targets are a key ingredient to build effective climate governance and implement coherent policy measures in the shorter term. The French target framework could be criticized as not being “Paris-compatible” in the first place (since it only targeted a 75% GHG reduction by 2050). But more importantly, it highlights the importance of establishing a science-based target framework that remains adaptive over time. In this regard, the revision of the French long-term objective to achieve climate neutrality by 2050 illustrates how the “ratchet effect” introduced by the Paris Agreement can effectively be implemented on the national level.

Lessons from implementation challenges : ensuring compliance with the legal framework

The most important lessons that can be learned from the French experience certainly draw on the feedback of the first years of actual implementation of the national climate governance framework. Despite being effective overall, several key challenges can be identified, in particular with regard to ensuring the compliance with the legally binding framework :

Strengthening counterpowers through legal action

To some extent, the French case highlights the difficulties of ensuring legal-bindingness in practice. The fact that the targets and governance processes are enshrined in law provides some status and ensures stability, insofar as they have to be included into all planning documents and related debates.

However, one issue that can be identified relates to the possibility of triggering a judicial review to ensure compliance in the case of serious policy gaps. The Energy Transition Act does not provide any provisions in this regard. This might explain the difficulties of independent organizations (such as environmental NGOs) to effectively go to court in order to act as an effective counterpower. Unlike other countries (mostly Anglo-Saxon countries with Common Law systems), the legal approach has not been used frequently in France, due to constraints in terms of resources and effective results. (1)

Designing clear monitoring, evaluation and revision processes

In the absence of legal sanctions, compliance heavily relies on the quality of monitoring and evaluation processes, i.e. their ability to clearly identify implementation gaps linked to specific policy measures or absence thereof, and the ability to apply political pressure to address these. Several key lessons can be drawn from the French case.
First, with regard to the streamlining of the monitoring and evaluation processes : the French framework includes a multitude of reporting mechanisms, increasing the risks of redundancy and (avoidable) complexity. A more focused approach, including all the key elements for evaluation (compliance with mid- and long-term targets, impact assessment for different policy measures and assessment of potential implementation gaps) appears critical to make this process more efficient and ensure that timely adjustments are put into practice.
Second, with regard to the structure of the process, as can be illustrated by the ongoing first full evaluation and revision of the French strategic plans. Rather than following a chronological approach where monitoring reports allow for a comprehensive evaluation which then informs the revision of the strategic plans, these processes are currently happening in parallel, threatening the overall coherence.
A major risk identified in the case of France (but also affecting other countries) is related to the risk for the government to become both judge and party of the evaluation, highlighting once more the importance of independent expertise in the policy process.

Providing clear mandates and adequate resources for dedicated institutions

While setting-up dedicated institutions is an essential first step, the French experience shows the importance of providing them with specific mandates and dedicated resources, as illustrated by the case of the French Expert Committee for the Energy Transition. Although inspired by the UK Climate Change Committee, the French Expert Committee for the Energy Transition has not been able to fulfil the same role, given that the framework does not endow it with a proper mandate in terms of independency and counterpower (i.e. if and how the government should respond to its reports) and does not provide any financial resources to fulfil its work, which remains a major issue in terms of independency and transparency of the evaluation and revision processes.

Inserting the national level framework into a multi-level governance

Another challenge that becomes apparent from the French case study refers to the complexities of articulating the different levels of climate governance, from the local scale up to the European policy framework. While this is not a weakness specific to the French case, it highlights the importance of ensuring that the different governance tools (in particular for planning) take into account the adjacent policy levels to improve harmonization and coherence. The reform of the EU governance framework will be of crucial importance in this regard, since it must be able to accommodate the different starting points and levels of ambition of the Member States, ensuring that it still creates added value for the most advanced countries (rather than overlapping reporting obligations) and enables the dissemination of best practices on the national scale to raise ambition and effective implementation.
The relative ambition of the French governance architecture also raises questions about what the appropriate role of EU governance is to support French national governance beyond 2020.
The European framework might be of particular importance for stakeholders to put additional pressure on the government in case of weak policy implementation, taking into consideration the aforementioned difficulties of triggering a judicial review. The past experience has shown that having clear commitments from France with respect to the EU (whether legal or political) and related oversight processes at EU level to monitor the achievement of headline targets is an additional source of political pressure that can help ensure robust implementation of the French law’s major objectives. The monitoring process associated with the national commitments under the new National Energy and Climate Plans might play an important role in this regard.
However, at the same time, it also seems likely that the nature of the support that France would need from the EU to implement its low-carbon objectives become fundamentally different to simple “oversight” looking forward. Deep transformation of sectors like transport, electricity, industry and agriculture will require more focus on how to create the broader conditions for decarbonization within the context of the EU internal energy market. The proposal for a European Energy Union is obviously already a step in this direction. However, further work in terms of elaborating the governance modalities of how to make the Energy Union concept function in practice would seem to be required.


(1) According to a 2017 Policy Brief by the Grantham Research Institute, climate litigation cases have grown to over 250 in 2017, considering a sample of only 25 jurisdictions (Nachmany, Fankhauser, Setzer, & Averchenkova, 2017). A recent prominent case has been the legal challenge launched by Friends of the Irish Environment to pressure the Irish government to improve its National Mitigation Plan, which acknowledges that the 2020 climate target will be missed (Sargent, 2017). Other cases include South Africa, Austria, the Netherlands, the USA and Pakistan (Khan, 2017).

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meilleures pratiques et défis de la mise en place de cadres efficaces
de gouvernance du climat. étude de cas de l’expérience française

Andreas Rüdinger, Institut du développement durable et des relations internationales, mai 2018, 38 pages


L’objectif de cette étude de cas est de proposer un éclairage supplémentaire sur la mise en place d’un cadre national efficace de gouvernance du climat à travers un examen approfondi de l’exemple français. Pour dresser un tableau complet et bien comprendre les enseignements tirés pouvant servir à d’autres pays, l’étude aborde trois questions de recherche :

• Comprendre l’économie politique de la transition
• Évaluer les éléments clés du cadre de gouvernance
• Quels sont les défis spécifiques liés à la mise en œuvre concrète du cadre juridique ?



Le développement de cadres de gouvernance climatique robustes au niveau national est le principal défi de la mise en œuvre de l’accord de Paris sur le climat. Alors que de nombreux pays développent ou révisent actuellement leurs propres cadres juridiques, ce rapport examine les leçons pouvant être tirées de l’expérience française. Pour aider à mieux comprendre cette expérience, l’étude privilégie une double approche : l’examen du processus politique ayant abouti à l’adoption de la loi française de transition énergétique et l’évaluation du fond en termes de cibles, d’instruments politiques et de processus de gouvernance.


Reconnu comme « leader mondial » par l’AIE, le cadre français de gouvernance du climat est également arrivé en tête d’une récente étude du WWF sur les stratégies sobres en carbone en Europe. Il intègre en effet tous les ingrédients fondamentaux d’une politique climatique efficace, notamment des objectifs juridiquement contraignants, un signal de prix du carbone dans tous les secteurs de l’économie et des mécanismes de gouvernance solides pour garantir une planification efficace conforme à l’ambition à long terme.


En termes de compatibilité avec l’accord de Paris, l’expérience française apporte des enseignements essentiels pour les autres pays. Tout d’abord, la révision en 2017 de l’objectif français sur le long terme (ciblant la neutralité climatique à l’horizon 2050) montre comment l’effet cliquet peut être mis en œuvre au niveau national. De même, le cas français souligne l’importance d’aller au-delà d’une approche politique axée uniquement sur le secteur de l’énergie, afin de développer une stratégie de décarbonation profonde couvrant tous les secteurs économiques, y compris l’agriculture, la gestion des déchets et la foresterie.


Cependant, un certain nombre de leçons peuvent être tirées des défis auxquels la France est confrontée dans la mise en œuvre concrète de sa stratégie sobre en carbone ces dernières années, montrant bien que c’est dans le détail que surgissent les difficultés. Il apparaît particulièrement important de simplifier les processus de suivi, d’évaluation et de révision de la Stratégie Nationale Bas-Carbone afin de combler les possibles lacunes dans la mise en œuvre. Ou encore d’accorder un mandat politique clair et des ressources aux institutions indépendantes telles que le Comité d’experts pour la transition énergétique.

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