Sustainable development reform French lessons
France will be the host for this year’s Conference of the Parties (CoP), which is the apex body of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The government has configured the entire state-level machinery to not only host the meeting in the best possible manner but also exhibit itself as a role model. For a country like Pakistan, reeling through the impacts of climate change and recurring climate-led disasters, there are clear lessons. Some (listed below) serve the wider interests of sustainable development policy at a national and sub-national level.
First, France has complimented its commitment to climate change agenda with an energy transition law, vigorously debated at the parliamentary level. The Minister for Ecology, Sustainable Development and Energy built a strong coalition around this law and persuaded that France can have more jobs under a green economy. Sustainable development awards are proposed for local-level administrators. The persuasion was particularly effective with trade and labour unions who were informed how in a circular economy more green jobs will be available. A series of carbon budgets will be allocated to key productive sectors in order to help curb GHG emissions. The overall dependence (of the national economy) on any fuel will not be more than 50% – thus bringing down share of nuclear energy from 75 to 50%. The ministry also convinced other players in the government not to wait for economic recovery projected from next year. Inclusive growth can be triggered by lowering energy costs and moving towards conservation of energy. Saving scarce energy resources may end up helping inclusive and sustainable growth.
The efforts of the government were helped by think tanks and policy advocacy organisations. For example the Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations (IDDRI) invited a global representation of research institutions including Pakistan’s Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) to discuss a common narrative and understanding of what can be delivered in Paris CoP meeting. Similarly the Institute of International and Strategic Relations (IRIS) started discussing this year how consequences of climate change can impact international security, for example, through channels of food security and migration.
Second, macro-level reforms cannot translate into favourable outcomes unless local-level implementation mechanisms are sharpened. The next lesson from France is the continuous reform of fiscal decentralization. Ultimately it is the devolved structure of administration, finance and audit that supports programmes and activities in the domain of sustainable development. A regularly upgraded training of French civil servants, at academies such as the École Nationale d’Administration (ENA) helps in building the necessary human resource for managing scarce resources and drive local reforms. Fiscal decentralization is being tested in current times of low economic growth when centre has reduced resources for the sub-national administrators. The Centre was also forced to reduce local taxes as subsidies came down.
On the national tax administration, it is important to note that all taxes are collected by the Centre. Even taxes going to the provinces are collected by the central authority, thereby reducing tax administration costs. The local bodies can change the rate of taxes, but new taxes cannot be added. Unlike Pakistan, the unspent budget (at the year-end) is not asked to be surrendered to the centre. It is adjusted as future public investment for the same local body.
Taxpayers are, however, encouraged to keep a check on how local bodies are spending their resources. Recently when a municipality went bankrupt, the locals were informed of their responsibility to reimburse the deficit. If the local administration still continues to mismanage, the representatives of the state can take over the administration. Third, the governance of land ownership, use and accrued land revenues, is an evolving reform in France. Decades of efforts for land record automation are still being refined. A large tax liability is calculated based on the value or rental value of land. A regular mapping of land and land utilisation is made public. By law, land has to be declared by both owner and user. This also implies that any purchase of land has to be publicly announced and advertised. The local land registry division collects information about all land permits. Large land ownership is discouraged through high value of taxes however large land holdings in a company may face lower tax burden, which indirectly also encourages agricultural corporatization. All land taxes are indexed with rental value or price of property.
Fourth, social cohesion in France is respected as a pre-requisite for shared growth and prosperity. The Prime Minister heads the integration process and territorial equity reforms. Town planning is carefully based on: a) building socially inclusive infrastructure, and b) special focus on marginalized districts and c) attention to districts having marginalized communities. Such planning is strongly grounded in data and evidence (produced by policy researchers), which goes from macro to micro-level monitoring of city and community development. A detailed GIS mapping of resources and service delivery is available with the relevant government departments. Such town planning is also expected to mitigate several forms of inequality.
In the interest of social cohesion no public sector survey asks for details on ethnic background of respondents. The policies to address poverty and equality are strictly based on income disparities. Long-term fiscal incentives are provided to firms employing from less disadvantaged areas and communities. Even in the capital, Paris, issues related to inequality were addressed through changing the way in which commercial and public sector offices locate within the city. For example the right-bank in Paris was observed to be underdeveloped several years back. Some government offices were moved to the right-bank which increased the real estate prices. As infrastructure was added to this locality, new jobs came about. Now the Mayor plans to replace the crowded highway along right-bank with pedestrian zones.
Finally, an intense effort is under way for making France relevant at the global economic sphere. Several years back Germany had tried to introduce their SMEs to the developing countries through government-led sub-contracting. France is now trying to follow the same example. Today there are 44 French companies working in Pakistan. French Development Agency (Agence Française de Development, AFD) is also working in Pakistan to enhance socio-cultural co-operation. Pakistan needs to position itself better in terms of trade and investment opportunities to receive greater volumes of French trade and investment. The co-operation between both countries needs to go beyond socio-cultural domain and towards a comprehensive and strategic partnership.
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The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint or stance of SDPI.