On May 9th, thousands of people protested accross France to demand greater ecological measures in the fight against climate change. The nationwide protest emerged from a referendum to include the country’s obligation to combat climate change and its impacts.
The bill on “Climate and Resilience”
The protest’s target is a climate change bill, approved by France’s National Assembly, aimed at curbing greenhouse gas emissions. The bill follows a proposal introduced by the Citizens’ Convention for the Climate (CCC). This group of 150 randomly selected citizens were tasked with outlining a series of measures to achieve a reduction of at least 40% in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 (compared to 1990).
However, while the French government affirms that the essence of the proposal is preserved in the bill, environmentalists insist that the original ambition of ”Les 150” was greatly diluted.
Indeed, when the convention’s proposals were made available to the public, industrial sectors, which would’ve been greatly affected by the reforms, took the offensive. They launched a lobby to sabotage the Climate Convention and were successful in doing so. In the end, the most impactful measures of the CCC were distorted, minimized or even completely suppressed.
Climate activists are now calling the bill a ”climatic and social failure”, according to France24, and denounce the lack of commitment taken on the issue.
The controversy surrounding the referendum
President Emmanuel Macron promised to hold a referendum on the amendment if the legislation passes both the National Assembly and the Senate. If it gets approved, Article 1 of the Constitution will include the line: ”The Republic guarantees the preservation of biodiversity and the environment and fights against climate change.”
However, while the revision gained enormous support in the National Assembly, climate advocates are worried that the Senate, with its right-wing majority, will block the motion.
Moreover, Pieyre-Alexandre Anglade, a National Assembly deputy for Macron’s LREM party, told newspaper JDD that the Senate had already decided “to empty the bill of its substance”. According to him, their additions “will prevent the agreement.” Therefore, it is suggested that the proposed constitutional amendment will not make it past the Senate.
On the other hand, Macron’s office told AFP in a conference that the referendum “is not abandoned […] the battle continues. The environment issue remains one of the priorities of the president.”
Macron subjected to harsh criticism
During the protest in Paris, Cyril Dion, a guarantor of the CCC, was critical of the government’s lax approach on the issue. She said: “It is a question of continuing to denounce the lack of ambition of the climate law and […] the almost certain abandonment of the referendum which constitutes a further step backwards,” according to the journal Le Monde.
Macron’s opponents also condemned the President for the likely cancellation of the referendum. Indeed, Green deputy Matthieu Orphelin, posted on his blog that the government was “maneuvering so that the process does not go to the end, refusing all consultations with the Senate”.
Furthermore, Bruno Retailleau, a center-right senator, chastised the President for accusing the right of obstructing the motion. In an interview with Liberation, he said: ”[Macron] never intended to refer this constitutional amendment to a referendum, simply because he knew the no would win.”
He added: ”Macron is trying to do a double blow: with this referendum proposal, he made a promise that did not bind anyone other than himself. He is trying to extricate himself from it, and since he does not assume [this new decline], he tries to make a bad blow to the right while passing.”