In a move that has both environmental and populist appeal, the Green Party of France (Ecology Les Verts) is calling for a ban on private travel by jet in France.  There is significant support for the proposal because of the high carbon emissions of private jets and the unfairness of an existing domestic ban on short commercial flights that affects the average French citizen, but not those with extreme wealth.  

As the aviation sector is one of the world’s top carbon emitters, France has imposed restrictions on commercial air travel. Last year France banned domestic flights for trips that could be made in less than two and a half hours by train, unless they connect to an international flight. However, private jets were exempt from this ban.  

A report published last year by Transport & Environment, a group promoting cleaner transportation, estimates that travel by private jet causes five to fourteen times as much pollution per passenger as travel by commercial airline and fifty times the pollution caused by the average traveler by train.  

The study also shows that France has the highest level of emissions from private jets in the European Union. Roughly ten percent of departing flights from France in 2019 were by private jet. Many of these were shorter flights to places popular with the wealthy, like the Mediterranean Riviera. The private flights of billionaires are being tracked on social media, and the majority in France are increasingly questioning the privileges of the most wealthy.  

French Green leader, and member of the National Assembly, Julien Bayou plans to introduce a bill to ban travel by private jet in France. He frames the issue as one of “justice and equality”. Bayou argues: “Making the ecological transition requires that everyone do their part, and if the super rich, the super polluters, benefit from super exemptions, we will not be able to get out of it”.  He would also consider supporting a ban on other energy intensive private transportation, such as by yacht.

French Transport Minister Clement Beaune agrees that the inequity cannot continue, stating: “Certain types of behavior are no longer acceptable. We have to act to regulate flights on private jets. There can’t be a means of individual travel for comfort at a time when the president’s campaign requires everyone to make an effort.” Furthermore, French Government spokesperson Olivier Veran states that restricting the use of private jets is essential to signal to the French people that the same rules apply to all: “It has symbolic value, and symbols are important. The French should not have the feeling that it is always the same people who are asked to make an effort, that is to say, the working and middle classes.”.

Notwithstanding these concerns the French government is not prepared to go as far as an outright ban on private jets because it sees them as having an important role in the economy. Instead, the government is exploring options to limit travel by private jet and mitigate the impact that it has on the climate. Consideration is being given to a dedicated tax on the use of private jets, that would go to carbon offset programs, as well as restrictions on shorter flights.  

France also intends to raise the issue with the rest of the European Union. Beaune suggests that ideally coordinated action would be taken by the entire European Union rather than France acting alone.  He plans to discuss the concern with his fellow European transport ministers in the fall.

David Arnott

David Arnott of Toronto, recent graduate of Political Science from McGill University.

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