It is not among the world’s biggest producers of oil and gas, nor the biggest consumers, but France is hoping to become an environmental pioneer with its decision not to issue any more oil and gas exploration licences.

The government, under newly elected President Emmanuel Macron, has vowed to take the step as part of a transition towards more environment-friendly energy sources.

Nicolas Hulot, an activist and "environmental transition" minister under the new government, says that the country is set to introduce new legislation in the autumn that will prevent further licences being granted for oil and gas exploitation in France and its overseas territories.

France leans heavily on nuclear for its energy sources, and neither it nor its overseas territories are major oil and gas producers. Total, its largest oil and gas company - in fact its largest company altogether - doesn’t operate any fields in its home territory.

The amount of oil France produces pales into insignificance next to the likes of the US, Saudi Arabia and Russia. That said, it does have a sizable industry based around downstream refining and petrochemicals.

General view of the French oil giant Total refinery in Mardyck near Dunkerque on January 28, 2010. The 137,000 barrels-per-day Dunkirk plant has been shut for an unspecified duration since September 15, 2009 due to poor demand and margins. An extraordinary meeting with the central workers' body will be held on February 1 to discuss the refinery's future, union officials have said. The banners reads
Image: REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol

However, with President Donald Trump’s recent decision to walk away from the Paris climate accord, the message that France will limit future exploration is powerfully symbolic.

Macron and Hulot also recently met former California governor and high-profile climate-change campaigner Arnold Schwarzenegger, pledging to “make the planet great again” through green initiatives.

Macron’s environmental hit list is long. In the process of campaigning for the presidency he pledged a moratorium on shale gas, alongside wide-ranging measures to encourage the use of zero-emissions vehicles and boost renewables.

Hulot, who has become something of a celebrity following a number of nature documentaries and having run as a green party candidate in the 2012 elections, prompted a few raised eyebrows when he took up a government position, given his openly anti-nuclear stance.

France bans nuclear
Image: IEA

France gets about three-quarters of its electricity from nuclear sources, mostly domestically generated, and is largely self-sufficient in energy terms. In fact, it is a net exporter of energy.

The nuclear sector is largely state-owned via energy company EDF, and the passing of a law last year to bring the proportion of power from nuclear down to 50% is arguably a more radical move than the proposed ban on new oil and gas licences.