Skip to Content

To Meet Emissions Targets, We’ve All Got to Be like France

Even with a terrible recession and a natural-gas bonanza, the U.S. isn’t cutting emissions fast enough.
August 26, 2013

Some experts still think it is possible to reduce emissions 50 percent globally by 2050, a somewhat arbitrary goal thought to minimize the risk of climate-change disasters. But they say hitting that goal is possible only if we try really hard.

How hard?

Only one country, France, has ever reduced greenhouse emissions at the pace we’d have to keep up between now and 2050.

Over a remarkable period of 30 years, France went from getting less than 1 percent of its power from nuclear power plants (which emit no carbon dioxide directly) to getting about 80 percent from them. During the period of the fastest nuclear  build-out, France managed to reduce emissions at a rate of 2 percent per year, says David Victor, co-director of the Laboratory on International Law and Regulation at the University of California, San Diego.

Victor says to hit emissions targets the whole world needs to do the same thing, and keep it up over a longer period.

The French transition wasn’t easy. Victor notes that this project was very expensive. And it got more expensive over time, something that would undoubtedly be the case worldwide as the cheapest options for reducing emissions are quickly picked off in the early years.

To give a sense of just how hard it is to replicate the rate seen in France, look at what’s happened in the United States. A major recession slowed energy consumption, and at the same time technological advances unlocked huge amounts of natural gas, leading utilities to shut down coal plants in favor of natural-gas plants that emit half as much carbon dioxide. In just one year, 2009, emissions dropped by an impressive 6.7 percent.

But that was only one year. If you look back to 2000, the average reduction was less than 1 percent a year, less than half of what’s needed to meet emissions goals.

Keep Reading

Most Popular

transplant surgery
transplant surgery

The gene-edited pig heart given to a dying patient was infected with a pig virus

The first transplant of a genetically-modified pig heart into a human may have ended prematurely because of a well-known—and avoidable—risk.

open sourcing language models concept
open sourcing language models concept

Meta has built a massive new language AI—and it’s giving it away for free

Facebook’s parent company is inviting researchers to pore over and pick apart the flaws in its version of GPT-3

Muhammad bin Salman funds anti-aging research
Muhammad bin Salman funds anti-aging research

Saudi Arabia plans to spend $1 billion a year discovering treatments to slow aging

The oil kingdom fears that its population is aging at an accelerated rate and hopes to test drugs to reverse the problem. First up might be the diabetes drug metformin.

images created by Google Imagen
images created by Google Imagen

The dark secret behind those cute AI-generated animal images

Google Brain has revealed its own image-making AI, called Imagen. But don't expect to see anything that isn't wholesome.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose WongIllustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.