Policy Economy

Movement towards a Carbon Currency in France

Updated on 2022-10-19 by Adam Hardy

A radical problem needs a radical solution

A debate on the future of our societies and the fight against global warming is needed

Three circumstances, independent of each other, create a unique opportunity to engage in a public debate on the reforms to be undertaken:

  • climate change, with its heatwaves, droughts and floods, has accelerated awareness of the need to act strongly and quickly;
  • the war in Ukraine imposes the idea of rationing fossil fuels, no longer just to protect the climate but to deal with the reduction in supply;
  • in France, the opening of the new legislature and the launch of the National Council for Refoundation are an incentive for renewed political action.

Together with a growing number of allies of Compte Carbone (the “carbon account”), we have come to the conviction that the climate challenge can only be met by allocating an equal annual quota of greenhouse gas emissions to all. What remains is to find a robust strategy to popularise the idea in the public arena. And to do this, we need to understand the opposition.

Two objections are regularly raised:

  • it is a “radical solution” which is frightening, as many prefer to remain in the comfort of ready-made thinking;
  • it is a “gas factory”, as it is not clear how it will work.

Here is the proposed answer to both.

An appropriate response

It is not the solution that is radical, but the problem itself!

For two centuries we have become totally dependent on fossil fuels and industrial production methods. At the beginning of the twentieth century, we spoke of the “electricity fairy”, and since then, the fairies have multiplied, or rather the slave machines that light us, feed us, heat us, and bring us all the world’s spectacles in our living rooms. Some have estimated, by analogy with the energy that a human being can mobilise, that our current way of life represents the equivalent of 200 slaves working for each of us 24 hours a day. Under these conditions, yes, dividing our emissions by more than five in less than thirty years represents a radical break, calling for the invention of a new society, a new way of life and new technologies. It is absurd to deny the radical nature of this change, not to accuse the answers of being radical!

To bring about this radical change, we need to understand the very source of the current situation. It is neither limited to the climate issue, nor attributable, as we often hear, to “capitalism”, nor reduced to the over-consumption of the rich in rich countries. It is the entire intellectual and institutional system of what is commonly called “modernity” that is at stake, a system that I prefer to call “the first modernity” because we will respond by moving forward, not backwards. A modernity that has based its operational efficiency on the division of labour and specialisation. The split between humanity and the biosphere, of which global warming is the most spectacular expression, is just one of its manifestations. Division and specialisation are found in science, education, the relationship between thought and action, and governance. Efficiency has been achieved but has been accompanied by a general crisis of relationships that can be seen in interpersonal relations, in the destruction of the biosphere, in relations between societies.

Radical change therefore requires an intellectual and institutional revolution, the adoption of a “compass of the second modernity” based on the reconstruction of relations in all areas and on the arrival in the foreground of actors hitherto considered to be secondary, namely territories and global production chains, which are natural spaces for the construction of relations. It is this compass of the second modernity that must be debated and translated into reforms in the fields of governance, economics, ethics and law, education and scientific research. To do this, we must show that the obvious things we believe to be timeless are in fact beliefs inherited from the past and forged in response to challenges that are no longer ours: an economy based on the logic of infinite growth; a governance system that favours sovereign states; an ethics and legal system based almost exclusively on individual rights.

By adopting this new compass, as we are doing with the Manifesto “Dare to be Territorial” (published by Editions du Pommier, available in all bookshops, 3.5 euros), we are making the fight against global warming an illustration of the Copernican revolution that we must carry out in order to put relationships at the centre of our thinking and our institutions.

Clarity will come

The second objection to the carbon account is that it is a gas factory and it is not clear how it would work.

We must break the vicious circle

As it is not on the public stage, it is not possible to mobilise resources, talents and experience to specify its mode of operation, but as it is not specified, it cannot be put on the public stage.

The Anglo-Saxons respond with a striking phrase: “where there is a will there is a way”; in other words, when you have the will to succeed you find the means. It is this will that we must build: because the quota system is ultimately the only effective and fair solution, we must now collectively specify its implementation. For the past two years, the allies of the carbon account have proposed many concrete solutions. We must go further and even more collectively by involving the public authorities. The answers will be all the easier to come up with if we can draw on ideas and technologies developed for other purposes.

Three examples:

  • If we recognise that fossil energy is a currency in its own right, we can transpose to allowances all the methods developed for conventional money, in particular for financing investments;
  • The research currently underway in Europe on the development of a ‘digital euro’ is well resourced and will help us to address the technical feasibility of the carbon currency and concerns about consumer surveillance;
  • Blockchains, with their energy-saving protocols (an article by Jean Paul Delahaye in Le Monde on 24 September reminds us that, compared to bitcoin, it is possible to divide the energy consumption of block chains by a thousand), respond to the challenge of traceability of exchanges and greenhouse gas emissions throughout the production chain.

In order to bring these issues to the forefront of public debate, we must not attack quotas head-on, but rather show the obvious, following an unstoppable reasoning that can be understood by all. This reasoning starts from the need to assume, at last, our share of responsibility for global warming by setting ourselves an annual obligation to divide our climate footprint by four by 2050, as we have committed ourselves internationally, which represents a reduction of 6% per year throughout the period. Impossible!? As I set out in an article published in Le Monde on 12 October, this is a particularly good time to finally talk about rationing, as the term is already on everyone’s lips.

Next, we must define the other criteria that any serious policy must meet. There are four of them:

  • to make this obligation of result apply to all emissions linked to our way of life;
  • to respect an imperative of social justice;
  • to have a global mechanism leading to the mobilisation of all the actors in the service of this obligation of result;
  • to respect the principle of least constraint according to which the pursuit of the common good must limit as little as possible the freedom of choice of individuals.

This is the framework of the public debates to be conducted; it would be the framework of a possible citizen referendum, the culmination of these debates. If other solutions than negotiable quotas satisfy these conditions, so much the better, let us put them on the table and compare them:

we are not dogmatists of quotas, we only want France to commit itself to a serious path in accordance with these criteria.

To continue these exchanges, we are organising a new meeting of the Compte Carbone alliance on Thursday 1 December from 6 to 10 pm at the Climate Academy (registration for room or video here). Come in large numbers or send us your thoughts, all are welcome to help us move forward.

Originally published at

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