Environment

France passes ‘transformative’ climate law that activists say lacks ambition

Climate activists demonstrated outside the National Assembly in Paris on Tuesday, as the parliament held a final vote on the climate bill.
Climate activists demonstrated outside the National Assembly in Paris on Tuesday, as the parliament held a final vote on the climate bill. © Daniel Cole/AP

After months of debate and compromise, the French parliament and Senate have finally passed a final version of a law bringing together a broad group of measures to reduce carbon emissions and address climate change. The government says it is a game changer for France, but environmental campaigners and the left continue to say it lacks ambition.

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The so-called Climate and Resilience' law is the “fruit of an unprecedented democratic exercise” Prime Minister Jean Castex said Tuesday on Twitter, after the votes, making reference to the Citizen Climate Convention, which brought together 150 people in 2019 and 2020 to come up with proposals to address climate change.

President Emmanuel Macron had promised to implement 146 proposals that came out of the assembly, and the law addresses some of them, but Citizen convention members and environmental groups say that too much has been left aside.

They believe Macron’s approach of taking small, pragmatic steps will not make any difference. Expert bodies have also said that even with the new law, France will be unable to fulfil its commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Range of measures

The law brings together financial incentives, bans and directives to improve energy efficiency and reduce emissions in housing, transport, food and other aspects of daily life.

Measures include stopping short-haul internal flights for connections that could be made by train in less than 2.5 hours, a ban on renting out poorly insulated flats or houses, and the implementation of weekly vegetarian meals in school cafeterias.

The law includes many compromises, as Macron introduced the Citizen’s climate convention after the Yellow Vest protests in 2018 and 2019, which started over a diesel tax, and revealed the need to balance climate concerns with social needs.

For example, regions will have the right to tax polluting freight traffic, but they are not required to do so, and a tax on nitrogen fertiliser will be considered if other emissions targets in the agriculture sector are not met.

The law passed easily in the National Assembly, where Macron’s LaRem party holds a majority, but faced resistance in the Senate, dominated by the right-wing Republicans, who insisted on delays on many of the measures.

Cities of more than 150,000 people will put in place low-emissions zones, banning polluting vehicles, but only as of 2025, and advertisements for polluting vehicles will be phased out only in 2028, to allow consumers to plan accordingly.

The Senate also refused to back a proposal to enshrine the preservation of the environment in the constitution, a symbolic act that Macron had promised and was one of the citizen’s assembly’s proposals

Culture shift

Ecological transition minister Barbara Pompili called the law “transformative” and told parliamentarians it was a “huge cultural shift” towards common sense environmentalism.

Referring to devastating flooding in neighbouring Belgium and Germany, she said that there was a need to act for a planet that is “running out of breath”.

But environmental groups have been protesting against the law throughout the debate process, and reiterated Tuesday at a gathering in front of the National Assembly that the law does not go far enough in addressing the crisis.

“The weakness of the law… reveals a lack of political courage,” wrote Greenpeace France in a statement, saying that the measures will not respond to the urgency of the climate crisis.

Lawmakers adopted a law that contains “a sprinkling of interesting measures, but which fall short of solutions that exist”, said WWF France.

It aims to bring France in line with its 2015 Paris Agreement pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent of 1990 levels by 2030.

But the independent High Council on Climate in a report in June raised questions about France’s ability to meet its pledges.

And the European Union’s new climate goals are more ambitious, with the aim of reducing greenhouse gasses across the continent by 55 percent by 2030.

(With wires)

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