French parliament approves climate change bill despite green opposition
French lawmakers have approved a climate change bill that will prevent future airport expansions, prohibit open-air terrace heaters and reduce packaging waste. But critics say the measures fall short of what is necessary.
Macron's centrist majority assured, as expected, the bill's passage in the lower house National Assembly. It now passes to the Senate, dominated by conservatives.
Environmental groups have accused the president of failing to seize a chance for aggressive steps against global warming, especially as support grows steadily for green parties in many Western nations.
As lawmakers debated the text, around a dozen Extinction Rebellion activists chained themselves to gates at the National Assembly while others fired smoke bombs.
Environment Minister Barbara Pompili rejected an "all or nothing approach" for battling climate change, telling MPs that a broad support base is needed if the nation is to change ingrained habits.
"Instead of grand statements or immense targets, which end up failing because they lead to a social revolt, we are putting demanding measures in place," she said.
The Yellow Vest protests that rocked France two years ago was initially sparked by a fuel tax that was intended as a climate-friendly measure but hit the pockets of car-reliant citizens.
Pompili has previously defended the climate law as "one of the biggest laws of the (president's) term".
Measures include bans on domestic flights under two and half hours that can be done by train, restrictions on renting badly-insulated properties, and the creation of a new "ecocide" crime to punish polluters.
The overall aim is to implement measures that will enable France to meet its target of reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent compared with 1990 levels by a deadline of 2030.
Lobby groups such as Greenpeace have called it a "lost opportunity of Macron's term", while even the president's own environmental advisory council said it would "have a potentially limited impact".
It is also less ambitious than new targets for 55 percent cuts agreed at the EU level, and falls short of a German plan that was rejected last week by the country's constitutional court as "insufficient".
Climate change and protection of the environment are likely to be bigger themes in next year's presidential election than the last one in 2017, which Macron won while barely campaigning on the issue.
The main Green party in France made major gains in cities such as Strasbourg, Bordeaux and Lyon in local elections last year, mirroring a Europe-wide trend in favour of environmental groups.
The climate law has also been a test of what Macron billed as a more inclusive form of government that has seen members of the public invited to help draft the legislation.
After the Yellow Vest protests, he pledged to change his leadership style which was seen by critics as too centralised and removed from the wider public.
A "Citizens' Convention on the Climate", made up of 150 people chosen at random, was tasked with recommending measures that would enable France to meet its emissions targets.
But after seeing the legislation submitted to parliament, many members felt let down and accused Macron of reneging on a commitment to adopt their ideas.
Cyril Dion, a leading figure from the convention who was among the protesters outside the Assembly on Tuesday, denounced the efforts as "too timid".
The government counters that is trying to find a balance between reducing emissions while protecting workers and industry at a time when the economy has been battered by the Covid-19 pandemic.
"With the law, we are walking a fine line, making big changes while keeping it economically and socially acceptable," Pompili told the Financial Times last week.
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