Countries that signed the 2015 Paris climate accord must do more than cut carbon dioxide emissions and develop new technologies to combat global warming — and accept the need to change their way of life, France’s environment minister has said.
Speaking in an interview, Barbara Pompili acknowledged the importance of technological solutions such as the rollout of hydrogen power in Europe, the US and Asia. But she also highlighted that the wide-ranging bill making its way through the French parliament would “mean profound changes in the lives of our fellow citizens”.
It was “great” for the Americans and others to rely on new technologies such as hydrogen. “But I think we have an extra ingredient in France and Europe. We’re taking these new technologies but we’re going further because we’re also looking at our ways of life,” she told the Financial Times. “We’re really talking about a change of model.”
The legislation includes restrictions on domestic flights, requirements for “climate labelling” of products such as clothing to show their impact on global warming, stricter regulations to enforce insulation of buildings and measures to reduce the carbon output of farming while ensuring sustainability and promoting vegetarian meal choices.
France under President Emmanuel Macron has bitter experience of the political costs of trying to persuade citizens to lead more climate-friendly lives — the nationwide gilets jaunes anti-government demonstrations that shook his presidency began in 2018 as a motorists’ protest against rising fuel prices because of a carbon tax.
Pompili acknowledged the difficulties that could result from green policies, but said the climate legislation, which should be enacted by the end of the summer, showed how France could find a balance between saving the planet and preserving the economy and standards of living.
The 44-page draft law “on climate disruption and reinforcing resilience” is one of the fruits of Macron’s “great debate” designed to defuse the gilets jaunes crisis and adopts most of the proposals suggested by the 150 members of the Citizens Convention on Climate.
They include a ban on flights for journeys that can be made by train in less than two-and-a-half hours, as well as the creation of a new offence of “ecocide” for those accused of damaging the environment.
Some green campaigners say the law does not go far enough — they wanted a flight ban for trips that can be done by train in four hours or less, for example — but Pompili said the idea was to run a marathon over decades, not to sprint ahead with overambitious measures.
Among other provisions, the law would strengthen low-emission zones for cars and aim to reduce Paris air pollution by 40 per cent in four years, she said.
“We’ve had social problems,” said Pompili, “but with this law that we are voting on now we are showing that you can continue to reform your economy and transform the country from an ecological point of view while still maintaining essential support for those affected and keeping our social system.”
She added: “We learn from our mistakes . . . With the law we are walking a fine line, making big changes while keeping it economically and socially acceptable.”
France has been a strong proponent of the EU’s planned “carbon border adjustment mechanism” — a potential tax to ensure that European industries are not undercut by imports from countries with lower carbon emissions standards.
Pompili had hoped, when Joe Biden was elected to the US presidency, that the White House would give the EU and the US the chance to push for international carbon taxes and face down Chinese opposition to the idea.
But John Kerry, US climate envoy, was lukewarm about the EU’s plan last month, saying it had “serious implications for economies, and for relationships, and trade” and should be only a “last resort”. Mathias Cormann, the incoming secretary-general of the OECD, was also critical, and Biden himself has been silent on carbon pricing since coming to office.
Asked about these obstacles, Pompili said: “The question now is exactly that — how to make everyone converge. There is a working group between France and the US [led by French finance minister Bruno Le Maire and Kerry] established to work on this . . . You can’t take the carbon border adjustment mechanism on its own. It obviously has to be accompanied by discussions on carbon pricing more broadly.”
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