5 Mins Read
After months of debate, France has approved a new climate law. Passed by both the French parliament and Senate, the new package of legislation tackles carbon emissions across multiple sectors of the economy, from transport to food. While the government has described the law as an unprecedented move to protect the environment, some activists argue it still falls short of what’s necessary to slash France’s carbon footprint and tackle climate change.
Here, we take a closer look at the law—both the good and the bad.
1. Step forward in tackling transport emissions
One big part of the legislation is a plan to cut emissions from the transport sector. The main targets within the industry are cars and airplanes.
Under the law, short-haul domestic flights that could be made via train within less than 2.5 hours will be scrapped. It’s meant to encourage more travelers to choose the low-carbon rail route instead.
Another measure aims to phase out all older cars that are the most polluting on the road, regardless of whether they run on diesel or gas, by 2030. Part of cutting car pollution will also involve creating “low-emissions zones” in French cities with more than 150,000 people. These zones, which are to be set up by 2025, will have speed restrictions and more limits to prevent high-pollution cars from entering.
Some estimates say that will translate to at least a third of France’s current cars being excluded in these zones.
2. Lowering high-carbon meat intake: praise for weekly vegetarian meals
Under France’s new climate law, school cafeterias will begin offering an exclusively vegetarian meal at least once per week. This will come into force by 2023. It will also apply to canteens in all publicly-run buildings.
Going meatless once per week will have a significant impact in slashing the country’s food emissions. In Europe, the meat and dairy industry produces more GHG emissions than all cars and vans combined, according to a Greenpeace analysis. Globally, animal agriculture drives nearly a fifth of all GHG emissions and contributes to soil erosion, water pollution and deforestation.
Greenpeace France has commented that this policy is one of the biggest positive steps in the right direction in the new climate law.
3. Loopholes in air travel
Campaigners note that while the crackdown on transport emissions is a step forward, there are some loopholes that could lead to insignificant changes when it comes to air travel.
Domestic flight routes that are to be scrapped cover only those that have a train route within 2.5 hours, rather than the 4 hours proposed by the 150-person citizen’s assembly that convened over the last two years to recommend proposals to the government. Environmental activists, including Greenpeace, say that only around a handful out of around 100 flight routes would be affected by the law.
4. Phasing out unsustainable buildings, but slowly
When it comes to the housing sector, France will be preventing the most energy inefficient homes from being rented out from 2025 onwards. These have to be rated F or G, the worst possible score. Landlords will have to renovate these properties before they are considered decent housing for rent.
But one criticism is that the rental ban is only covering the worst of the worst within this decade. Homes that have an E score for energy efficiency won’t be facing the rental ban until 2034, well over a decade from now.
5. Fighting fertilisers in agriculture, no mention of livestock industry
Within the agricultural sector, France is set to double down on combating nitrogen emissions from the excessive use of fertilisers. Farms will need to reduce their fertiliser use by 15% before the end of the decade, and those who fail to meet the target for two years will be taxed.
Farms will also be encouraged to plant more hedges and trees to improve soil quality, tackle water pollution and boost carbon sequestration.
But little was mentioned about the country’s animal agriculture sector. Within Europe, animal farming makes up 70% of the bloc’s agricultural emissions and drives 68% of its farmland use. There appears to be no push to shift livestock farmers in France towards more carbon-friendly ways to produce meat, such as plant-based or cell-based sources.
Previously, French agricultural minister Julien Denormandie made openly hostile comments suggesting the country would never allow or accept cell-based meat. Experts say that the country now risks missing out on a huge economic opportunity that would help bring its emissions down at the same time.
6. Less ambitious carbon targets than the EU
One of the most commonly underlined complaints with France’s new climate law is its lackluster ambitions when it comes to slashing its overall emissions. The government says the law brings France’s total GHG emissions down by 40% by 2030, compared to 1990 levels.
That is far shorter than the Fit for 55 plan proposed by the European Union. Under the EU’s plan, GHG emissions are to be cut by 55% within the decade.
While France’s ecological transition minister Barbara Pompili described the law as “transformative” in igniting a “huge cultural shift” towards protecting the environment, campaigners disagreed. Greenpeace France has commented that the “weakness of the law…reveals a lack of political courage,” while WWF France said that the “sprinkling of interesting measures” has “fall[en] short of solutions that exist.”
One of the citizen’s assembly’s proposals, which argued for the enshrinement of environmental conservation in France’s constitution, also failed to make it into the law, casting doubt over how much of a “cultural shift” will take place.
Lead image courtesy of Unsplash.