Just over a week after some 200 countries signed an agreement aimed at stepping up global efforts to fight climate change, France’s finance minister has warned that the cost of the energy transition will “be much higher than expected”.
“We should never underestimate the cost of climate transition,” Bruno Le Maire told reporters in Abu Dhabi, the oil-rich capital of the United Arab Emirates.
Le Maire, enjoying France’s strong economic recovery after the devastation of the pandemic, was with the Gulf Arab sheikh to discuss joint investments in a wide range of areas, from port infrastructure to hydrogen fuel and renewable energy.
The UAE has publicly pledged to have net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, on a list of countries that have still made long-term, vague commitments before the Glasgow climate summit kicked off earlier this month. Even as the country with the region’s first nuclear power plant tries to position itself as a leader on environmental issues, the UAE’s hydrocarbon-rich economy feeds on petroleum dollars.
Le Maire pointed to the challenges industrialized economies face as they move from cheap fuel pumped from the Persian Gulf to renewable energy sources.
“We don’t want the lowest income people to pay for the climate transition,” he said, acknowledging the lessons learned from the carbon tax aimed at encouraging the use of alternative energy and sparking the 2018 move. the mass protest movement of the so-called Yellow Vests in France.
To help bridge the energy transition, Le Maire stressed the need to fund new energy technologies, adding that France’s “accelerating cooperation” with the UAE in this area is “of the utmost value”.
The UAE and France have increasingly aligned themselves in recent years and share a mistrust of political Islam in the Middle East. Major French aerospace and defense companies have fueled growth in the emirates, which are home to more than 30,000 French citizens. Le Maire toured Abu Dhabi’s Louvre outpost on Sunday, which draws visitors to artifacts on loan from the Paris museum.
Le Maire, a close associate of President Emmanuel Macron now gearing up for a re-election campaign, praised France’s mass vaccinations that he believes fueled the economy’s projected 6.25% growth for the year.
“We are not in the position of other European countries,” he said, as Austria plunges into lockdown to contain the worst wave of coronavirus infections.
“(Lockdowns) have a very negative impact on the economy and that’s exactly the kind of situation we want to avoid.”