Climate Assembly adopts recommendations

22. June 2020

At their last meeting on 19-21 June 2020, the members of the French Citizens' Assembly "Convention Citoyenne pour le Climat" adopted 149 recommendations. They include far-reaching proposals for the economy, transport, housing, trade and food in a 500-page citizens' report. The proposed measures are intended to reduce the country's carbon emissions by 40 per cent by 2030.

The proposal to lower the speed limit on motorways from 130 to 110 km/h was particularly controversial. Here, the approval of 60 percent for this proposal was very close compared to the other recommendations.

For sustainable mobility

Several other measures aim to reduce private car use. These include the promotion of sustainable mobility. The Citizens' Assembly also proposes an ecological bonus-malus system for cars. Furthermore, subsidies for long-term leasing and interest-free loans for the purchase of clean vehicles are to be expanded. From 2025, the sale of new vehicles with high emissions is to be banned and the most polluting vehicles banned from city centres. In general, as much traffic as possible is to be shifted from road to rail and water. Randomly selected citizens' assemblies are to influence transport planning at all levels.

The Climate Assembly wants to ban the construction of new airports and the expansion of existing airports as well as domestic flights if there are alternatives. A tax should be levied on paraffin.

Building renovation and landscape protection

In the area of housing, all buildings are to be renovated for energy efficiency by 2040. The sealing of soils and the urban sprawl of landscapes are to be curbed. Companies are to be required to draw up carbon balances. The repair of products sold and manufactured in France is to become obligatory, as is the recycling of all plastic items from 2023.

The Convention Citoyenne recommends the renegotiation of the CETA trade agreement. In future, the precautionary principle and the Paris Climate Agreement should be applied as benchmarks for trade agreements. Non-compliance should be punishable by sanctions.

Regulation of advertising

In order to combat "overconsumption", billboards in public spaces and advertising for products with a high carbon footprint - such as large SUVs - should be banned. Other recommendations include high taxes on highly processed foods, a ban on genetically modified seeds, higher taxes on nitrogen fertilisers and a halving of pesticide use by 2030 and a ban on the most dangerous pesticides by 2035.

The list also includes a ban on heated patios, lighting shops at night and a tax on corporate dividends to fund industrial change.

"Ecocide" as a crime

The assembly is also calling for "ecocide" to be added to French criminal law as a crime. This is understood to mean, among other things, the destruction of the environment through pollution on a large scale and the extermination of a people as a result of the ecological destruction of their natural resources. The destruction or even the loss of an ecosystem and the resulting consequences for its inhabitants have so far not been legally actionable as a crime against the environment.

The Convention Citoyenne also recommends that the preservation of biodiversity, the environment and the fight against climate change be included in the constitution as a state objective. The preamble should be supplemented with the wording that the application of the rights, freedoms and principles enshrined in the constitution must not jeopardise the preservation of the environment.

Three referenda

The ecocide issue and the constitutional amendments are to be put to a referendum of all French citizens. On a number of other issues, however, the members of the Citizens' Assembly rejected referendums. One reason for this was the fear of not being able to communicate the individual issues to the population. Another was scepticism about direct democracy itself.

President Emmanuel Macron had convened the Climate Assembly after protests against, among other things, his planned carbon tax. The 150 participants were randomly selected from all regions of France. Care was taken to ensure that the members were representative of the population as a whole in terms of age, gender, place of residence, education and migration background. Since October 2019, the members had met on seven weekends. The assembly members were supported in their deliberations by experts. All participants were grateful for the experience. "When my daughter said to me straight in the eye 'Daddy, it was you who harmed the planet', I didn't know how to answer her. And then came the Convention Citoyenne," said participant Mathieu.

"Hold more citizens' assemblies"

The organisers of the Climate Assembly were pleased. "You have achieved a first in a political system that is built as the opposite of what you have done. Participatory democracy is not the norm in our country," said Laurence Tubiana, co-chair of the Convention Citoyenne steering committee, at the end of the assembly deliberations. Patrick Bernasconi, President of the Economic, Social and Environmental Council CESE, suggested holding more citizens' assemblies on other topics.

On 29 June, President Emmanuel Macron had agreed to all but three recommended measures of the Climate Assembly and committed to their implementation. Some proposals that fall within the scope of the ordinance have been forwarded to the Council for the Protection of the Environment. Other proposals have been included in the Corona Recovery Plan, which was presented to Parliament at the end of the summer. A series of proposals have been the subject of a separate "multi-measure" bill in 2021. Additional aid of €15 billion and the creation of a fund for the ecological transformation of the French economy were also announced.

Three recommendations rejected

Three recommendations of the Climate Assembly were not accepted by President Macron. These concerned the proposal to levy a four per cent tax on dividends. Macron sees the danger here that investments will be slowed down by this. A decision on reducing the speed limit on motorways from 130 to 110 kilometres per hour was postponed. In addition, the President saw no possibility to rewrite the preamble of the constitution, as climate protection cannot be placed above civil liberties.

On 14 July 2020, President Emmanuel Macron had announced his intention to "comprehensively renovate" the rail sector and to initiate "a major programme of energy renovation", initially for schools and facilities for the elderly.

First implementation measures

On 27 July 2020, Environment Minister Barbara Pompili had presented the first measures to implement the recommendations of the Climate Assembly. The fight against heat waste and the creation of two regional nature reserves are among the first concrete measures resulting from the Citizens' Assembly. The government wanted to implement this by decree, the minister announced. Heated terraces are banned for bars and restaurants since spring 2022.

With regard to the energy retrofitting of buildings, which cause 20 per cent of greenhouse gases, the government will introduce by decree "energy requirements as one of the criteria for decent housing from 1 January 2023", said Environment Minister Barbara Pompili.

Against "heat screens"

"This will allow people living in these heat sieve flats that consume more than 500 kW/h per m² per year - to demand refurbishment from the owner." If an owner does not follow this, a court may forbid them to charge a rent or even prohibit them from renting such a flat. The installation of oil and coal boilers in new dwellings will be banned, and "we will also require oil or coal boilers that are out of service to be replaced with a better boiler from January 2022," she said.

France has committed to protecting 30 per cent of its land surface. To achieve this, the government will create "two regional nature reserves, at Mont Ventoux and in the Somme-Picardie sea bay" and "a national nature reserve, the Robertsau forest, in Alsace", implementing projects already in the pipeline.

Bill passed

On 20 July 2021, the French National Assembly passed a comprehensive legislative package on climate protection. In it, 25 proposals of the Convention Citoyenne did not appear, 19 were adopted, 75 were partially adopted. Among other things, it provides for the new offence of "ecocide", a ban on certain short-haul flights and premiums for the purchase of electric bicycles.

Ecocide refers to serious environmental damage on a national scale, such as the pollution of a river. Violators face up to ten years in prison and fines of up to 4.5 million euros. In addition, the government wanted to ban short-haul flights within France if an alternative train connection of no more than two and a half hours exists. Connecting flights are exempt. The members of the Citizens' Assembly had demanded this for routes of four hours by train.

Critics: Climate protection goal will not be achieved

Critics complain that nothing will come of the "crime of ecocide". They say that particularly bad environmental pollution is only classified as a simple offence. The MPs have indeed decided that large business centres that take up a lot of space may no longer be built. However, this does not apply if they are smaller than 10,000 square metres. According to environmental associations, however, it is precisely these shops that account for 80 per cent of new buildings. The 150 members of the Citizens' Assembly had demanded a moratorium on new commercial areas on the outskirts of the city that endanger farmland.

The proposed legislation would at best achieve a carbon reduction of about 20 percent by 2030, instead of the targeted 40 percent. Not even ten percent of the proposals of the Citizens' Assembly would be implemented.

No referendum on climate protection

Macron had announced on 14 December 2020 that he would follow the assembly's proposal to have all citizens vote in a referendum on the insertion of the state goal of climate protection into the constitution. But this attempt failed on 6 July 2021. The Senate and the National Assembly could not agree on a common wording for the constitutional amendment. This means that a proposal drafted by the national climate assembly will not be implemented. "This is deeply regrettable," said Prime Minister Jean Castex. He assured that the fight for climate protection would continue.

In the French Senate, the bourgeois right has the majority. The agreement of the two chambers of parliament on a text was considered the first step to change Article 1 of the constitution. Initially, the following sentence was planned: "It (the Republic) guarantees the preservation of the environment and biodiversity and fights against climate change."

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