Gérard Mestrallet: “The Franco-Chinese climate negotiations are a success”
On November 3rd, live from Beijing, Gérard Mestrallet, CEO of ENGIE, appearing on Europe 1, announced progress in climate negotiations between France and China. He also reviewed ENGIE’s commitments to creating a world of decarbonized, decentralized and digitized energy, in which energy efficiency is at the center of the energy transition.
Extracts from the interview with Gérard Mestrallet by Thomas Sotto on Europe 1
Thomas Sotto. A fortnight ago, Ségolène Royal, the French Minister for Ecology, announced that ENGIE would no longer invest in coal (…). Will this occur naturally or will you accelerate the process? You have 30 coal-fired plants responsible for 81 million tons of CO2 a year. That’s somewhat at odds with the image of a company sponsoring COP21, as ENGIE is doing.
Gérard Mestrallet. You know, coal-fired plants represent 15% of our production capacity, while globally coal accounts for 40%, and up to 50% in emerging countries and 60% in countries such as China. We operate in 70 countries and have contributed to electrification and the development of electricity in those countries. Now the world is changing and changing quickly, and so is ENGIE.
We would therefore like to support these companies in developing renewable energies, whether solar, wind power, hydroelectric, biomass or geothermal. That is what we are doing, and that percentage will obviously fall relatively fast and if we can accelerate the movement, we will. (…) I believe that COP21 is a way of moving faster, and in particular – and this is what companies want – achieving the establishment of a global carbon price.
So tell us, Gérard Mestrallet, how are the negotiations going with China? It seems they are complicated. Yesterday, the mood was positive, with an announcement that the prospects are looking very good for COP21. What is it like when you’re round the table with them?
Well, firstly there are negotiations happening between governments, and I would like to highlight something people in France may not have realized: today something is happening on the climate question. (…) In my opinion, the Franco-Chinese climate negotiations are a success.
In the last two or three years, companies have become aware of the climate question and the government has made me responsible for coordinating Business Dialogue. Things are moving and moving in the right direction. You may recall that in Copenhagen it was the fact that the Chinese did not want to make commitments which meant the Americans wouldn’t either and that scuppered the agreement. It is therefore essential to have the Chinese and the Americans on board.
What makes you think that the Chinese are now more sincere in this respect?
(…) The Chinese are now more aware of the importance of this issue. Take the case of Beijing, a city ENGIE cooperates with. We signed an agreement yesterday with Beijing Enterprises. The Chinese have decided, here in Beijing, to withdraw all coal-fired equipment; they want to move from coal to gas, since gas does not release any particles. Because, as you know, pollution in cities is not due to CO2 but to particles and gas emits zero particles. Switching from coal to gas is therefore the fastest way for the whole of China to reduce pollution in its cities.
Gérard Mestrallet, as a citizen you are concerned about these environmental problems. I would like you ask you as the boss: today, tomorrow and in the coming years, will green growth be more profitable? Is that what we should be investing in?
Yes, green growth is profitable growth. Not only is it profitable but, in my opinion, it also creates jobs and that is what we are seeing in our group. ENGIE realized that the world of energy was changing: we are moving from the old world of centralized energy to a new world of decentralized, decarbonized and digitized energy, at the center of which is energy efficiency. (…)
And decentralized energy, energy efficiency, means energy efficiency services. We have 100,000 people in the Group, 100,000 people completely dedicated to energy efficiency.