Nicholas Hulot, the new environmental minister for France, has announced a 5-year plan that will lead to that country becoming carbon neutral by 2050. The plan is part of France’s commitment to the Paris climate accords. One feature of the proposal would prohibit the sale of all cars with internal combustion engines by the year 2040.

Renault Zoe electric cars have no internal combustion engines

Au Revoir To Internal Combustion Engines

M. Hulot told reporters his government wants to maintain France’s “leadership” in addressing global warming and climate change policies. “We are announcing an end to the sale of petrol and diesel cars by 2040,” he said, calling the plan a “virtual revolution.” He added, “We want to demonstrate that fighting against climate change can lead to an improvement of French people’s daily lives.”

He acknowledged the timeline would be “tough” for French automakers to meet but suggested, “Our [car]makers have enough ideas in the drawer to nurture and bring about this promise … which is also a public health issue.” He called the plan a question of public health policy and called it “a way to fight against air pollution.”

When Hulot says French manufacturers are up to the challenge, he is correct. The Nissan LEAF and the Renault Zoe together account for almost a quarter of all the electric cars currently on the highways and byways of the world. Peugeot and Citroen are also heavily involved in bringing electric cars to market. The French plan includes subsidies for lower income families that will allow them to transition from the high-pollution carbon bombs they are driving today to the zero-emissions cars of the future.

Exponential Change Is Coming

David Bailey is an automotive industry expert at Aston University in the UK. He tells The Guardian, “The timescale involved here is sufficiently long term to be taken seriously. If enacted, it would send a very clear signal to manufacturers and consumers of the direction of travel and may accelerate a transition to electric cars.”

In a conversation with The Independent, ClientEarth CEO James Thornton remarked, “This is a huge statement of intent from the French government and an example of how we’re likely to see exponential change in the coming years as governments grapple with the necessary changes we have to make for air quality and our climate.

“Coming hot on the heels of Volvo’s announcement yesterday, the outlook for internal combustion engines is bleak. This is now clearly the direction of travel and industry players who are not on board will find themselves struggling before long. These moves should be heeded by other governments and industry, who need to act to protect us from air pollution in our towns and cities and help mitigate climate change.”

My wife was reminding me last night over dinner that it was just 3 years ago when I pointed out a Tesla on the highway and she asked, “What’s a Tesla?” The pace of change in the world of electric cars, while slower than some would prefer, is quite remarkable. Big changes are coming and they are coming fast.

The latest report from Bloomberg New Energy Finance claims cars without internal combustion engines will account for more than 50% of the global new car market by 2040. India is considering a ban on gasoline- and diesel-powered cars by 2030. Norway has its sights set on 2025 as a target for the end of gas/diesel car sales. Cities are getting in on the act, with London, Madrid, and Mexico City among many world cities considering banning conventional cars. China is perhaps pushing hardest for electric vehicles.

Leadership, Not Tweets

France is focusing on more than cars as it positions itself to be a world leader in emissions reduction. M. Hulot also announced his country intends to halt the importation of products such as palm oil and soya, both of which contribute to deforestation around the world, especially in the Amazon forest, Southeast Asia, and the Congo. Deforestation represents 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions, he said

He called it “schizophrenic” to encourage people and corporations to reduce their emissions while encouraging the destruction of millions of trees which actually absorb carbon dioxide as they grow. France will establish a network of “citizen panels” to come up with socially acceptable ways the country can meet its goals under the Paris climate accords. France also intends to stop approving new exploration permits for oil, natural gas, and coal beginning this fall.

While the US slinks into a corner, sucks it thumb, and worries about how to increase sales of large cars and light trucks with internal combustion engines, other countries are just saying no to the gospel according to Koch and making serious plans to address serious challenges. Their plans involve more than tweeting inanities all day every day.