France has chosen to retain fossil fuel subsidies for farmers, despite its pledge at Cop28

During Cop28 in December, France’s former Minister for the Energy Transition, Agnès Pannier-Runacher, expressed her support for a Dutch initiative aimed at eliminating subsidies for fossil fuels. She emphasized the importance of leading by example to demonstrate readily available solutions. However, just two months later, amidst protests from farmers, the French government reversed its decision to end subsidies for fossil fuels used in agricultural machinery such as tractors.

This reversal has raised concerns about the broader implications beyond France’s borders. Sussex University professor of international relations, Peter Newell, warned that capitulating to social pressure on difficult decisions regarding fossil fuel subsidy reform could set a detrimental precedent. It might embolden other groups to resist similar reforms, as seen with farmers in Germany and Lithuania currently opposing plans to end fuel subsidies.

Globally, efforts to phase out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies have seen little progress despite commitments from the G20 since 2009. The International Monetary Fund reported a significant increase in explicit subsidies to $1.3 trillion in 2022.

The decision in France to maintain fuel subsidies for farmers is seen as contradictory to climate commitments and could hinder efforts to reduce emissions from agricultural machinery, which accounts for a substantial portion of the country’s carbon pollution.

Despite the setback, there are opportunities for emission reductions through improved driving practices and maintenance of machinery. However, significant progress would require transitioning tractors to biodiesel or electric engines, particularly as France aims for net-zero emissions by 2050.

Stéphane De Cara, from the French agricultural research institute INRAE, views the failure to address this issue as a concerning indication that France is not aligned with emissions targets. He suggests redirecting saved funds from fuel subsidies to support poorer farmers in adopting greener technologies.

Meanwhile, ahead of European elections, farmers’ protests across Europe have intensified, amplifying their concerns over various economic challenges, including falling incomes and rising costs. Some political parties are leveraging these grievances, using climate and nature policies as focal points for broader social discontent.

According to Newell, farming has become a battleground for discussions around just transitions, with right-wing parties weaponizing climate policy in the lead-up to the EU elections in June.

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