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Will France tax the super-rich to finance its fight against climate change?

A man walks by a graffiti reading "eat the rich" in Paris.
A man walks by a graffiti reading "eat the rich" in Paris. Copyright JULIEN DE ROSA / AFP
Copyright JULIEN DE ROSA / AFP
By Rosie Frost
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Suggestions on how to fund the climate transition from a recent report have been criticised by the French government.

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France could need nearly €70 billion a year to address the climate crisis and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

This estimate is part of a recent report handed to Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne on Tuesday (23 May). It comes not long after Borne presented a plan to combat global warming that would see France double the rate at which it is reducing greenhouse gases to meet 2030 climate targets.

The report recommends a one-off ‘green wealth tax’ on the country's richest 10 per cent and an increase in the country’s debt by 10 per cent of GDP - around €280 billion - by 2030.

But members of the French government aren’t happy about the suggestions, saying that a levy on the country’s wealthiest households is not the answer.

How much does France need and where could the money come from?

The report says that France will need additional public and private investment of €66 billion a year to fund its transition to net zero.

It suggests that the wealthy pay an exceptional tax on the basis that they tend to have much larger carbon footprints than the average person.

“To finance the transition...an increase in compulsory levies will probably be necessary,” the report’s authors write.

They go on to say that this could take the form of an “exceptional levy...which could be based on the financial assets of the wealthiest households”.

VALERY HACHE/AFP
Activists hold a banner reading 'Don't let the ultra-rich destroy the planet' as they block the Quai des Milliardaires, at the French riviera city of Antibes, on September 24,VALERY HACHE/AFP

A 5 per cent tax on the top 10 per cent of France’s richest households could raise an estimated €5 billion a year by 2050, French economist Jean Pisani-Ferry, one of the authors of the report, told Le Monde.

He explained that it wasn’t just a question of finding the resources to fund the country’s climate plans but of “convincing the French that the burden is fairly distributed”.

The economist also said that the country shouldn’t hesitate to resort to debt in order to fund the transition.

“There are many bad reasons to go into debt, and the climate is not one of them.”

How has the French government responded to the recommendations?

Prime Minister Borne commissioned the report last year with the goal of understanding how the climate transition could impact France’s economy. While delivering her action plan to combat global warming, the question of funding was carefully avoided.

And responses to the recommendations in the report have been less than favourable.

Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire told French media outlet RTL that neither a levy on wealth nor an increase in debt were “good options”.

LUDOVIC MARIN/AFP
French Minister for the Economy and Finances Bruno Le Maire leaves the Elysee presidential palace.LUDOVIC MARIN/AFP

He added that the government’s policy was to reduce taxes in “a country which has the highest tax burden of all the developed countries.” Le Maire insisted that France would not increase taxes and didn’t think the proposal was the right way to fund decarbonisation.

Government spokesperson Olivier Véran echoed these sentiments in an interview with France Inter, stating that he preferred “something transformative” rather than “something punitive”.

“If a tax was enough to transform our country and green the planet, that would be fantastic. But I don’t think that’s really the issue,” he added.

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“It’s more to get us all involved in changing behaviours, consumption patterns and production methods.”

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