Editor's note: This article was updated on July 20 after France passed the Climate and Resilience draft legislation.
France’s Senate adopted a contentious Climate and Resilience bill that aims to bring the country close to achieving carbon neutrality.
Among the measures in the draft legislation adopted on July 20 is the "ecocide" offence, which punishes "the most serious cases of environmental damage at national level" with up to 10 years in prison and a $5.4 million fine.
French deputies had debated the 7,000 amendments of the bill "on the fight against climate change and strengthening resilience to its effects" for over 110 hours. The Senate also gave the green light to ban short flights — less than 2.5 hours — when there is a train alternative.
To promote more environmentally-friendly means of transportation, French lawmakers passed an amendment to grant people a bike in exchange for trading in an old polluting car.
And at the cornerstone of the government’s climate policy, school children will have a vegetarian menu once a week in school canteens.
The draft legislation is one of the last major legislative battles of President Emmanuel Macron’s political mandate.
French MPs kicked off a parliamentary marathon in late March after hundreds of thousands of people demonstrated across the country, urging the government to adopt "a more ambitious" legislation.
Other key adopted measures include the prohibition by 2025 to rent a place in energy-intensive buildings, encouraging the building industry to adapt its practices. The industry is currently responsible for over a quarter of France’s greenhouse gas emissions, according to Barbara Pompili, France's Minister of the Ecological Transition.
The 69 articles of the draft law are divided into several topics, namely environmental justice, consumption, transportation, and housing.
The Climate and Resilience 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.
"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 the first day of the debate.
"We all know where to head: towards the end of this fossil fuel civilization," she added.
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.
"This law might have been ambitious 15 or 20 years ago, but today it does not measure up to the climate emergency," argued Jean-François Julliard, Director General of Greenpeace France after the end of the debate.
Approximately 110,000 people demonstrated across France to express their disappointment with the bill’s outcome on March 28. Placards carried by protesters denounced it as a "democratic betrayal", while others read "Error 404 Planet B not found".
Earlier that 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.
The "weakened bill does not allow [...] to achieve the objectives set by the national low carbon strategy," their article read.
“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,” the op-ed continued.
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.”
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 March 29.