Climate change and clean energy have emerged as core themes of French President Francois Hollande's state visit to the United States this week. In public statements and an op-ed in the Washington Post, Mr. Hollande and President Obama have pledged to cut carbon emissions and promote clean energy across the globe as part of a "renewed alliance" between the US and France.
France is gearing up to host the UN's climate change conference next year, and Hollande recently called for a stronger alliance with Germany, a neighbor that has aggressively pursued clean energy. Mr. Obama has promoted renewables since his election more than five years ago, and renewed a commitment to climate change in his State of the Union address last month. The state visit is an opportunity for both leaders to draw attention to an issue many believe will help shape their respective legacies.
"Even as our two nations reduce our own carbon emissions, we can expand the clean energy partnerships that create jobs and move us toward low-carbon growth," the two leaders wrote in Monday's Washington Post op-ed. "We can do more to help developing countries shift to low-carbon energy as well, and deal with rising seas and more intense storms."
The Obama administration has imposed stricter limits on carbon pollution from new coal-fired power plants in the US, and plans to roll out regulations that will do the same for existing plants. It has taken that policy abroad, limiting public financing of coal plants overseas, except in the poorest of countries.
It is a recognition that climate change is a global problem that requires global participation in a solution – particularly in developing countries that rely heavily on coal. The administration is looking for partners on a global clean-energy push and believes it could have one in France.
"Our own efforts at home on coal-fired power plants – but also on things like fuel efficiency standards and some of the steps we’ve taken to promote cleaner energy – have allowed us to make progress in reducing our emissions," a senior administration official said in a background briefing. "That puts us in a good position, again, to continue this effort internationally."
France relies heavily on nuclear power but is looking to follow in the footsteps of its renewable-energy neighbor to the East. Last month, Hollande called for a Franco-German alliance that would help both countries transition off of fossil and nuclear fuel. It would involve the creation of a cross-border company that would work to better integrate the countries' energy and electricity networks. A joint French-German cabinet meeting is planned for Feb. 19 to discuss the plan.
Both Obama and Hollande have come under criticism for their ambitious energy policies. Limits on carbon pollution amount to a "war on coal," Obama's critics say, that poses undue burden on the nation's predominant source of electricity. Spreading those limits to poorer parts of the world will stymie the spread of electricity access, critics say. Mr. Hollande's Franco-German plan is unrealistic, some say, and underestimates the vast differences between the two countries' power grids.
Obama and Hollande, for their parts, remain optimistic about addressing global climate change and a decarbonization of emerging economies.
"As we work toward next year’s climate conference in Paris, we continue to urge all nations to join us in pursuit of an ambitious and inclusive global agreement that reduces greenhouse gas emissions through concrete actions," they wrote in their op-ed. "The challenges of our time cannot be wished away. The opportunities of our interconnected world will not simply fall into our laps."