The French parliament is expected to vote on Tuesday a new law on climate change intended by President Emmanuel Macron to strengthen his green credentials a year before the national elections.
The bill is almost certain to be approved at first reading by the lower house of parliament, where Macron has a working majority, but it has been heavily criticized by environmental groups.
Activists deem her too timid given the pace of climate change in the world and accuse the French leader of his half-hearted commitment to a cause he admitted to embracing belatedly.
French Environment Minister Barbara Pompili defended the text, saying it “will affect the daily lives of all our citizens” and is “one of the greatest laws of the president’s mandate.”
The measures include banning domestic flights of less than two and a half hours that can be done by train, restrictions on renting poorly insulated properties or creating a new crime of “ecocide” to punish polluters.
The overall objective is to put in place measures that will allow France to achieve its objective of reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 40% compared to 1990 levels by 2030.
Lobbyists such as Greenpeace have called it a “lost chance in Macron’s tenure”, while even the president’s environmental advisory board said it “would have a potentially limited impact.”
It is also less ambitious than the new 55% reduction targets agreed at EU level and does not correspond to a German plan which was rejected last week by the country’s Constitutional Court as “insufficient”.
Climate change and environmental protection will likely be more important themes in next year’s presidential election than the last one in 2017, which Macron won when he was barely campaigning on the issue.
The main green party in France made major gains in cities like Strasbourg, Bordeaux and Lyon in local elections last year, reflecting a European trend in favor of environmental groups.
In Germany, the Green Party has overtaken Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives in recent polls.
– Protestations –
The climate law was also a test of what Macron touted as a more inclusive form of government that saw members of the public invited to help draft the legislation.
After the anti-government riots of the so-called “yellow vests” of the protesters in 2018, he pledged to change his leadership style, considered by critics as too centralized and remote from the general public.
One hundred and fifty people were chosen at random to form a “Citizen’s Climate Convention” tasked with recommending measures to enable the country to meet its emissions targets.
But after seeing the legislation submitted to parliament, many MPs felt abandoned and accused Macron of reneging on his pledge to adopt their ideas.
Convention figurehead Cyril Dion attended a protest rally calling for bolder action in March and said the law “absolutely does not allow France to achieve its goals.”
The government opposes finding 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.
Macron was stung by the “yellow vests” protests that were initially sparked by environmental policies such as increasing taxes on diesel as well as old and polluting cars.
His predecessor François Hollande was forced to turn around by truck drivers, known as “red hats”, who protested against his efforts to impose an environmental tax on heavy goods vehicles.
Even if passed by the lower house and the Senate, the new law will almost certainly need to be updated so that France can keep up with the evolution of the European Union’s emission reduction targets.
The European Parliament and EU member states agreed on a target at the end of April of at least 55% reductions by 2030 from 1990 levels – from the 40% target set in the French law.
© 2021 AFP