Less meat in French restaurants. Short-distance air travel will be prohibited. Gas heaters can no longer be used on café terraces.
President Emmanuel Macron is taking initiatives to make France a world leader in the fight against climate change. And a comprehensive bill passed by the French National Assembly this month promises to transform the way the French live, work and consume.
The bill would require the provision of more vegetarian meals in canteens paid for by the state, block the expansion of French airports and limit the use of plastic packaging.
Polluters could be convicted of “ecocide”, a new criminal offense punishable by up to ten years in prison for environmental damage. If Macron is successful, the fight against climate change will be enshrined in the French constitution through a referendum.
But these lofty ambitions are meeting strong resistance.
Instead of supporting the bill, environmentalists and politicians from the French Green Party accuse the Macron government of watering down ambitious measures and prioritizing the interests of big business at the expense of rigorous proposals submitted by a “panel of citizens on le climat ”, composed of 150 people and which Macron himself created last year to study climate concerns.
Meanwhile, influential business federations across the country have come together to resist what they see as over-regulation and populism that can cost jobs and undermine the ability of businesses to recover from economic loss. the Covid pandemic.
The bill will now go to the Senate. If approved, it will be referred to a joint parliamentary committee for final approval. If the mixed commission does not reach an agreement, the National Assembly, controlled by Macron’s party, will have the last word. Macron’s signature is not required for the bill to become law.
The confrontation is taking place at a delicate time for the president, who will try to be re-elected in 2022. Macron is proud to be a leader on climate issues and wants the legislation to strengthen his credentials in this area. “We need to find a smooth transition to a low carbon economy,” he said shortly after taking office. “Let’s face it: there is no planet B.”
But the strong divergence of positions can destabilize one of its main electoral platforms even before the start of the elections.
Tens of thousands of climate activists took to the streets of the country on a recent Sunday to denounce the bill. They warned that the bill is also an insult: the measure has been so diluted that France will not be able to achieve the goals it had committed to in the Paris climate agreement, the 2015 international pact. signed in his own capital to avoid a climate catastrophe. .
Activists of the Extinction Rebellion movement in Paris chained themselves to the doors of the National Assembly and planted thick bombs of red smoke. Camille Étienne, 22, a leading figure in protesters against climate change, said in an interview that the bill amounts to a “greenwashing” operation.
With the climate becoming one of the big themes of the election, Macron is facing new pressures. The main green party is gaining ground, reflecting the wider rise of environmental acronyms across Europe. Even Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right of national reunification and Macron’s main rival for the presidency, has adopted her own line of basic environmentalism.
But since the yellow vests movement exploded across the country at the end of 2018, Macron has been forced to seek a delicate balance between the fight against climate change and the fight against economic insecurity. The violent yellow vest protests began as a popular working class rebellion after the government raised taxes on gasoline and diesel to combat global warming.
In an attempt to calm the revolt, Macron created the Citizen’s Climate Convention, a group of people selected at random from across the country, tasked with formulating proposals, with the help of experts, for ambitious climate legislation balanced with economic justice.
The climate bill, which now goes to the Conservative-majority Senate for debate in June, was largely inspired by these proposals.
It prohibits domestic flights on routes that could be covered by the train in less than 2.5 hours, except for connections with international flights. Gas heaters used to entertain visitors to outdoor coffee tables will be banned from the beginning of April 2022.
Supermarkets will have to reduce unnecessary plastic packaging. Clothing and other items will carry an “ecological rating” indicating their environmental impact. Landlords will not be able to rent properties with inadequate thermal insulation. Advertising for energy based on fossil fuels, such as gasoline, will be phased out.
Business federations have identified certain measures which, for them, represent over-regulation and will be costly. They also questioned the ability of citizens to propose public policies against climate change.
The main employer lobby, the Mouvement des entreprises en France, or Medef, which represents the largest companies in the country, analyzed in depth the proposals of the citizens’ panel, highlighting those deemed more rigorous and recommending softer versions of the text. . The information comes from the weekly Journal du Dimanche.
Medef was particularly opposed to the criminalization of ecocide, defined as intentional and lasting environmental pollution. The organization’s president, Geoffroy Roux de Bézieux, told a Senate panel that its members fear it could harm businesses and economic activity. For him, laws should be written by lawmakers and not by random citizens.
Criticism can have an impact. In the bill approved by the National Assembly, ecocide is no longer qualified as a crime, as proposed by the citizens’ panel, to be qualified as a civil offense. It can still lead to a prison sentence.
The proposal to ban short-haul flights originally banned flights on routes that could be covered by train in four hours. When airports and airlines objected, the rule was relaxed to only cover routes that could be traveled by train in 2.5 hours – a change that excluded just eight air routes.
A measure that aimed to curb the paving of fields and vacant lots for the construction of warehouses like Amazon’s now ceases to apply to e-commerce companies.
The High Council on the Climate, an independent body, warned in a recent report that if the climate bill remains in its current form, it will be practically impossible for France to meet its commitments by 2030 under the Paris climate agreement.
The government responded that the amended measures, coupled with other climate regulations approved since 2017, will allow it to meet the targets. But another independent study commissioned by the government, that of the Boston Consulting Group, concluded that France will not meet its goals even in the best possible scenario. And last week, the French Senate, dominated by the conservative opposition, replaced wording that the Constitution “guarantees” the fight against climate change with a text stating that France “will protect” the climate.
Political scientist Daniel Boy from the University of Sciences Po in Paris said that environmentalism “is not really part of Macron’s DNA”. But he added that the president defends a “pragmatic ecology” made up of small steps and concrete measures, reflecting a liberal electorate sensitive to economic interests, opposing a “more radical ecology” with broad transformations.
It is this cautious approach that is rejected by many climate activists and that has brought protesters back to the streets. Camille Étienne, the climate activist, said the climate bill in its current form amounts to a betrayal of the proposals made by the citizens’ convention and an opportunity wasted by Macron. “They had the science, the people, the political moment,” he said.
“Lack of political will, surrender to the employer lobby right now – I can’t think of another word to characterize that than betrayal.”