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French Lawmakers Discuss Much-Criticized Climate Bill After Widespread Protests

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France's National Assembly is discussing the contentious Climate and Resilience bill, which seeks to usher transformation towards a carbon neutral society. 

It comes after hundreds of thousands of people demonstrated across the country on Sunday, urging the government to adopt "a more ambitious" legislation.

Key proposals in the plan include banning fossil fuel advertisements, and prohibiting short flights ­— less than 2.5 hours — if there is a train alternative. The bill seeks also to bar the sale of the most polluting vehicles — those producing more than 95 grams of CO2 per kilometer — starting 2030, and adopting a CO2 rating to classify products and services based on their environmental impact.

The 69 articles of the draft law are divided into several topics, namely environmental justice, consumption, transportation, and housing.

The bill is the outcome of proposals developed by the Citizen’s Convention on Climate (CCC), which aims at slashing greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40% by 2030, compared to 1990 levels.

The CCC is an unprecedented democratic experiment in France, which brought together 150 randomly selected French citizens from all walks of life tasked with advising the government on how to tackle climate change.

It was created in October 2019 in the aftermath of the nationwide Yellow Jacket protests, a grassroots movement calling for economic justice, which led to massive demonstrations across the nation.

For the first time, French people were directly involved in producing a draft law.

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"As we face a climate emergency, the [bill's] objective is simple, yet the path is complex," said Barbara Pompili, France's Minister of the Ecological Transition, as she took the floor on Monday.

"We all know where to head: towards the end of this fossil fuel civilization," she added.

The bill is one of the last major legislative battles of President Emmanuel Macron’s political mandate.

With this text, "France is positioning itself as a leader in the fight against climate change," said Jean-René Cazeneuve, general rapporteur of the bill during the debate.

"Error 404 Planet B not found"

This long-anticipated draft law ­has, however, come under fire from environmental activists and campaign groups.

On Sunday, about 110,000 people demonstrated across France to express their disappointment with the bill’s outcome. Placards carried by protesters denounced it as a "democratic betrayal", while others read "Error 404 Planet B not found".

Earlier in the month, over 230 French political figures exhorted the government to adopt a "real law" in an op-ed on France Info, a French news service.

Despite the fact the CCC worked for nine months on developing key policies to fight climate change, the National Assembly ended up with a pale copy of the proposals made, they argued.

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The "weakened bill does not allow [...] to achieve the objectives set by the national low carbon strategy," their article read.

Yet, they added, "a law that is so critical for the future of the planet, of our society, and of the nation should be at the heart of a genuine democratic debate [...] rather than the result of truncated and quickly concluded discussions.” 

NGOs criticized the French government, for instance, for not taking into account the proposal to prohibit commercials on fast food.

A 2020 report published by the Observatory of Multinationals found that “as soon as the convention’s proposals were published, the main industrial sectors concerned (automobile, aeronautics, agrochemicals, advertising) launched a major lobbying offensive to obtain their dismantling”.

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Five years after the Paris Agreement — the first legally binding international treaty on climate change — France approved a plan to enshrine the battle against climate change in its Constitution. 

The newly written article states that France “guarantees the preservation of the environment and of biological diversity, and fights against climate change,” — deemed  “the fight of the century” by French President Emmanuel Macron.

"We can see that this government focuses more on words rather than actions when it comes to the climate," stressed Sophie Taillé-Polian, National Coordinator of Generation Mouvement and a French senator, on LCP — France’s Parliamentary Channel — on Monday.

As the legislative marathon goes on, lawmakers are debating on the 7,000 amendments of the Climate and Resilience bill, the cornerstone of the government's climate policy.