France Seeks New Ways to Legitimize Climate Measures

France Seeks New Ways to Legitimize Climate Measures

In the final quarter of 2019, France embarked on a new venture to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions as the Citizens’ Climate Convention (Convention citoyenne pour le climat) commenced its work on 4 October. Consisting of 150 citizens drawn by lot, the Convention’s task is to draft policy measures that will allow France to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by 2030, in a socially just manner. With President Emmanuel Macron’s climate measures having previously ostentatiously hit the wall of socioeconomic injustice – the Yellow Vests protest movement reached its one-year anniversary in November – the Citizens’ Climate Convention represents a more inclusive climate policy approach by the government.

The Convention convenes in Paris under the consultative legislative body, the Economic, Social and Environmental Council (CESE), over seven long weekends between October 2019 and April 2020. The work is practically organised by splitting participants into five workshopping groups dedicated to different themes: housing, transport, work and production, food, and consumption. A sixth group, composed of members of each of the five thematic groups, discuss transversal issues. The Convention has access to a fact-checking team and a group of experts to assess the environmental, social and financial effects as well as the technical feasibility of proposed measures. External experts and stakeholders may also be called in for hearings as per the Convention’s request; President Macron himself participated in the discussion on 10 January 2020.

By the end of the third session in mid-November, examples of the most concrete proposals that the Convention had formulated included:

  • Housing: Facilitating and streamlining the state’s renovation subsidies; introducing an obligation to renovate old buildings instead of building new ones
  • Transport: Prohibiting combustion-engine cars in city centres; lowering speed limits on highways
  • Consumption: Indexing products’ VAT to the distance between site of production and site of sale; regulating advertising; increasing product lifespan
  • Work and production: Introducing an obligation to recycle all plastics by 2025; introducing an obligation to enable reparation of products
  • Food: Informing and educating all citizens about ecology; reforming agricultural education

By the end of this fourth session in January, the thematic groups should have concretized and prioritized their proposals. The remaining three sessions will be dedicated to debating the measures in plenary and with decision-makers, and to consequently refining the proposals.

Great potential or dodging responsibility?

With a total budget of around 4.5 million euros, the Citizens’ Climate Convention is estimated to be the single largest popular consultation in the country’s history. The sampling of the 150 non-remunerated Convention participants was particularly painstakingly constructed to reflect the population in terms of sex, age, education level, social and professional category, geography, and urban-rural distribution. Monitoring mechanisms are in place to ensure the Convention’s political independence, and the initiative has been transparently reported on. The Convention has proved a positive learning experience for many participants, a large share of whom had little to no knowledge of climate issues from before. Many have also taken the mission to heart and strive to actively spread the knowledge in their home communities. At this early stage, these remain the initiative’s most material effects.

However, there are great hopes that the Convention will improve the public legitimacy of future climate policies. So far, President Macron’s climate efforts have been mired in his reputation as ‘the president of the rich’, uninterested in the plight of ‘normal people’. In contrast, policy measures proposed by lot-drawn citizens should reasonably be free of elitist labels. According to the President, the Convention’s proposals will be submitted ‘unfiltered’ – without tinkering by the government – either to Parliament as legislative bills, or to the French people through referenda. Proposals that do not require legislation will be implemented as is. There is therefore potential that the Convention will help move up France’s climate policy in a socially acceptable way.

Analysts have pointed out that President Macron is risking his own climate credibility through the establishment of the Convention: if the government does not implement the Convention’s proposals as promised, the President’s credibility in terms of climate efforts will be exhausted. On the other hand, the initiative has also faced criticism from climate activists. For example, Greenpeace has argued that the Convention is a way for the government to avoid their responsibilities, while the most efficient climate policy measures have long been known and simply need to be implemented.

Activity rating: **Standing still / ***Right Direction

Despite some critics contesting the usefulness of the initiative, Climate Scorecard estimates that the Citizens’ Climate Convention is a constructive attempt at better engagement and involvement of citizens in the climate challenge. It has great potential to strengthen France’s commitment to the Paris Agreement. However, Climate Scorecard will continue monitoring the Convention’s factual outcomes in the months to come.

Take action

Write to the participants of the Citizens’ Climate Convention:

Dear Madams, Dear Sirs,

Our global climate NGO, the Climate Scorecard, expresses its support to the task of the Convention citoyenne pour le climat for finding solutions to reduce France’s greenhouse gas emissions, all the while upholding social justice. We applaud your appreciation of the gravity of the situation and agree with you that forceful measures will be needed urgently to address the challenges we are facing. At the same time, it is clear that actions cannot be punitive towards those in the weakest positions in society. We count on your wisdom in finding balanced solutions, and appeal to you to hold your government accountable for their promises to put your proposals through a fair legislative process.

With our respectful and best regards,

[sign name]

Send Action Alert Message through the website of the Citizens’ Climate Convention:

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