Fears French Senate may scupper Macron's promised climate referendum

Protesters calling for more ambitious climate policies march through Paris on Sunday, May 9, 2021.
Protesters calling for more ambitious climate policies march through Paris on Sunday, May 9, 2021. AP - Christophe Ena

A promise by President Emmanuel Macron to hold a referendum on enshrining climate action in France’s constitution is being put to the test in the Senate, a day after thousands of protesters took to the streets to demand more ambitious climate policies.


Doubts were cast as to whether the referendum would happen after a lawmaker for Macron’s La Republique en Marche (LReM) party accused the Senate – dominated by right-wing opposition party Les Republicains – of rewriting a referendum proposal adopted by the National Assembly last week.

Under French law, both houses of parliament must agree on the wording of a referendum before it can be put to the people.

In an interview with the Journal du Dimanche, LReM lawmaker Pieyre-Alexandre Anglade said the Senate had “emptied the referendum bill of its substance”, preventing an agreement between the two chambers.

The news added to the fury of demonstrators who say France will fail to meet its climate targets under the government’s wider climate and resilience bill, which is to arrive in the Senate mid-June.

Macron took time out of an EU event in Strasbourg to assure protesters the referendum bill had not been abandoned, and would continue “living its parliamentary life”, which he said was the only way an agreement could be found.

Ecological transition

France has committed to reducing emissions by 40 percent by 2030, and the climate bill – aimed at rolling out the 146 proposals of the Citizens' Climate Convention – is how the government hopes to fulfil its promises.

Environment Minister Barbara Pompili said the legislation, perhaps the biggest of Macron’s five-year term, would affect the daily lives of every person in France. 

It includes restrictions on domestic flights, measures to make buildings more energy efficient, “carbon scoring” for goods such as food and clothing, the creation of an “ecocide” offence and consumer incentives for greener cars.

However opponents say the bill will have a limited impact, arguing that bans on advertising fossil fuels should have been extended to other polluting products, and that ecocide should have been made a “crime” rather than an offence. 

Alma Dufour, a campaigner at Friends of the Earth, told RFI that France also had a responsibility to put pressure on multinational companies who financed fossil fuels.

"Rich countries have a duty to reduce their emissions … We know that three-quarters of the African population is already affected by climate change,” she said. 

“We’re fighting for France, but also for the rest of the world because the climate unites us all.”

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