150 volunteers participated in the Citizens’ Convention on the Climate in France. They must now debate and vote on each of their proposals, which include amending the Constitution and the allowing use of referendums, as well as deciding on how to fund their measures. Audrey Garric and Rémi Barroux explain latest developments in an article in Le Monde.
The Citizens’ Convention on the Climate in France publishes 150 proposals to “profoundly change society”
One hundred and fifty citizens, one hundred and fifty proposals. This arithmetic, which looks elementary, belies a long, sometimes tortuous journey of nine months. From sessions to presentations, from working groups to assemblies, the participants in the citizens convention for the climate – most of them neophytes on environmental issues – set out to propose a new model to “profoundly change society” in order to respond to the climate crisis. The product of their efforts was revealed on Thursday June 18, on the eve of the concluding session which takes place from Friday June 19 to Sunday June 21.
Over these three days, the citizens will debate and vote on each of their proposals which were developed through a structure of five working groups (housing, travel, food, consumption, production, and work) – and a large proportion of their proposals should be adopted. They will also vote on an amendment to the Constitution, the use of a referendum, as well as on the sources of funding for their measures. Their final report will be delivered to the executive on Sunday afternoon. “It was very exciting to see citizens from all walks of life getting so involved and investing so personally, and deliberating and debating,” said Laurence Tubiana, co-chair of the governance committee of the convention. “They went into a great deal of detail across many themes because the ecological transition affects all aspects of life and politics. ”
In October 4, 2019, 150 volunteers were randomly selected to participate in this democratic experience on an unprecedented scale, which was set up by Emmanuel Macron to try to respond to the crisis of “yellow vests”. Since then, the volunteers have worked tirelessly to address the question of how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by 2030 in a spirit of social justice.
These high school students, doctors, firefighters and farmers, aged 16 to 80, from all French regions, met six times at the Economic, Social and Environmental Council (EESC) in Paris and held two sessions via videoconferencing during the Covid health crisis. At the beginning of April, they decided to participate in the reflection on how to emerge from the crisis by sending the executive fifty ideas for designing measures. They have now released all 150 of their proposals, compiled in two heavy volumes of almost 500 pages.
Amendment of the Constitution
Certainly the most emblematic measure is to amend the Constitution. The 150 citizens wish to revise the preamble to the main text, to make clear that “the respect of rights, freedoms and principles cannot compromise the preservation of the environment, which is the common heritage of humanity”. They also want to add to article 1 that “the Republic guarantees the preservation of biodiversity, the environment and fights against climate change”. They also propose the creation Defender of the Environmental, the equivalent of the Defender of Rights.
The majority of the 150 citizens agree with the idea of constitutional reform – an idea which was suggested to them by Nicolas Hulot during his presentation in November. They want this revision because of its symbolic significance, because of the debate in society that it would stimulate, and because it would constitute an additional legal tool, despite the fact that environmental protection is already constitutionally guaranteed through the Charter of 2004.
Citizens then addressed the most polluting sector in France, transportation, and especially the private car, which is responsible for 60% of greenhouse gas emissions. The proposal that opened the most debate in their ranks was reducing the speed on highways from 130 km / h to 110 km / h next year. “This proposal could be seen as restriction of freedom and causing time to be wasted,” they acknowledge in light of the controversy that was caused by reducing speeds on secondary roads from 90 km / h to 80 km / h. To “make it acceptable”, they emphasize that the measure reduces emissions (by 20% on average), saves fuel, and reduces deaths.
They also want the fleet to evolve “quickly”. The current law provides for the end of combustion engine vehicles in 2040. Among other things, they propose banning from 2025 the sale of new high-emission vehicles (more than 110 g of CO₂ / km), introducing zero-rate loans for the purchase of a clean vehicle, and increasing the bonuses for low-emission vehicles, while significantly increasing the penalties for cars that pollute. In order to encourage other modes of transport, they want to increase the bicycle fund from 50 million euros to 200 million euros per year to finance cycle paths, prohibit access to city centres for the most polluting vehicles, and increase the use of the train, especially by reducing the VAT on tickets and by investing massively in infrastructure.
Finally, they want to limit the “harmful effects” of air travel. They propose that progressively by 2025, there should be no more domestic flights on routes where “there is a low-carbon alternative that is satisfactory in terms of price and time [on a journey of less than four hours]”. The citizens group would also ban both the construction of new airports and the extension of existing ones. They also want to increase the 2019 eco-contribution per kilometre which “is far too low to have a dissuasive effect” with a smaller increase for the French overseas departments and territories.
For buildings, the second most emitting sector, the 150 volunteers propose firstly to force owners of their own homes and of rental properties to renovate all homes by 2040, and high energy consumption accommodation by 2030 – ie: buildings with F and G energy performance. This would mean tripling the current pace of renovations. In order to carry out this “major national project” — which would create jobs and reduce energy and healthcare spending – the citizens group would provide support in the form of one-stop shops and financial assistance, in particular for those on modest incomes who would pay almost nothing.
The members of the convention also want to reduce energy consumption by banning heated terraces and lighting in stores at night. They would keep temperatures at a maximum of 19 ° C in private and public buildings and air conditioning would not go below 25 ° C. Finally, the citizens group would prevent urbanisation of natural land and urban sprawl “in a much more efficient way”, for example by “immediately” stopping the development of new suburban commercial areas, “which consume a lot of space”.
The conclusions of the working group on food focus on the promotion of “healthy, sustainable, less animal and more vegetable food, respectful of production and the climate” and, jointly, of a an agricultural system founded on new practices such as agroecology and local production.
By 2030, the members of the convention write, our plate will have to include 20% less meat and dairy products. Some of their proposals echo the 2018 EGalim law, which they say should be extended and strengthened. In particular, they target institutional catering which must evolve “towards more virtuous practices”, for example by offering two vegetarian meals per week from 2025. They also suggest issuing of food vouchers “for the most deprived”, to be used in associations for the promotion of small-scale farmers (AMAP), or for organic products.
The agricultural model should be reformed by introducing a target of 50% of agricultural land devoted to agroecology by 2040. They would also reduce the use of plant protection products by 50% by 2025 – an objective already included in the Government’s Ecophyto II plan – and ban the pesticides that are the most harmful to the environment by 2035. Education and agricultural training need to be reformed in order to achieve this transition. And they call on France to be “more ambitious” when it comes to reforming the common agricultural policy, which must become a “lever for the transformation” of agriculture.
At the international level, the citizens group also asks the government not to ratify CETA – a free trade agreement between Canada and the European Union – as it stands, but to renegotiate it in order to include the precautionary principle in trade agreements, as well as compliance with the commitments of the Paris climate agreement.
Finally they propose to make ecocide a crime, defined as “any action that causes serious ecological damage by participating in the overt and significant neglect of planetary limits”, such as the erosion of biodiversity, climate change or acidification of the ocean.
In order to consume less and better, the citizens group wants above all to regulate advertising. Taking up the idea of the Evin law, but applied to the climate, they want to ban advertisements for products “that emit the most greenhouse gases”, for example vehicles consuming more than 4 l / 100 km and / or emitting more 95 grams of CO2 per km. They also want to limit “daily and unsolicited incentives for consumption “, or require statements to encourage people to consume less – such as “Do you really need it?” ” They propose to ban advertising signs in outdoor public spaces, excluding local and cultural information, “as well as signs directing traffic to a shopping location”. Gone would be the ads announcing that shopping centers are nearby.
As an extension of the February 2020 law against waste and the circular economy, the members of the Convention propose progressive introduction of rules requiring stores to sell bulk products – in large and medium-sized stores, bulk buying should represent 25% for dry and liquid products in 2023, and 50% in 2030. There should also be “a glass deposit system (washable and reusable)”. Digital self-restraint was also a focus of the group, along with education, which they believe should be a lever for responsible consumption.
During these long months of work, the convention noted that many laws and initiatives were already in place but were not applied or implemented. It is therefore necessary to “control and punish breaches of environmental rules more efficiently and quickly “, including by the creation of a public prosecutor’s office specializing in environmental issues.
Production and work
Among their more shocking proposals, the members of the convention would reduce working hours from 35 to 28 hours per week, with an hourly minimum wage increased by 20% to maintain an equivalent wage. This proposal provoked many disagreements among the 150 citizens, and within the “Production and work” working group. “To move towards a new model, oriented around self-restraint, sharing and social justice, we must consume less, produce less and therefore work less”, argue its supporters. This reduction in working time should make it possible to limit travel (and therefore emissions), improve the quality of life and save time for oneself.
In order to review methods of production, the citizens want to eliminate all single-use plastics from 2023 – the current law provides for the end of plastic packaging in 2040 – strengthen the repair, reuse and recycling sectors, increase the longevity of products when they are produced. They call for “getting out of innovation for the sake of innovation”, without taking into account the ecological impact. They point to the transition from 4G to 5G which would generate more than 30% more carbon energy consumption, “without real utility (no added value for our well-being)”.
The citizens also want to support employees and businesses in their ecological transition by accelerating the conversion of some companies, by funding training and by maintaining wages. Finally, the “150” suggest that all companies should be required to produce an annual carbon account in order to receive state aid.
“The majority of these measures are not new, but these citizens have gone further than what already existed. Taken together, their proposals are coherent, ambitious and technical, ”says Laurence Tubiana, who is also director general of the European Climate Foundation.
One third of the 150 proposals have been put into legal terms, meaning they have been prepared to become a bill or a regulation. On Sunday, members of the convention will have to determine which ones they want to see put to referendum, a democratic process which they ardently defend. “It is a strong, symbolic gesture that would allow all French people to participate and understand our work”, says one of the citizens, Sylvain Burquier, 46 years old, marketing manager of a services group.
They will also decide on the funding mechanisms for their measures. During their last working session in late May, they discussed 80 options, ranging from a conditional carbon tax to an “ISF [solidarity tax on wealth] for the climate”. “We couldn’t push the thinking as far as we wanted, due to lack of time. But we wanted to demonstrate that we have a spirit of responsibility, that we know the cost of our measures, ”explains Grégoire Fraty, 31, who works in vocational training, near Caen.
Once voted, what will happen to the “150” measures? When he came to the convention in January, Emmanuel Macron undertook to take up “without filtering” the “precise, clear and detailed” proposals, in the form of a referendum, bill or regulation. “We are ready to take the rest of your work,” said 55 deputies of all political stripes in an open letter addressed to 150 citizens on June 15, assuring them that the “high degree of ambition” of their proposals will be brought to the Assembly.
“I hope the government’s response will measure up to the citizens’ work,” argues Laurence Tubiana. It is desirable that he respond quickly and that the work of the agreement be part of the recovery plan to be announced on July 14. The government must commit to a specific roadmap. ”
The citizens intend to monitor this, in part by creating an association “Les 150”. Many NGOs, that were skeptical at first about a convention that could be seen as yet another forum to debate measures that were already on the table, are now insisting on taking action. “We will wait to see if the measures are taken again and we will try to make them visible and understandable. We may judge some of them not ambitious enough, but if they were all applied, we would take a giant step, ”says Anne Bringault (Climate Action Network). Activists from Youth for Climate and Extinction Rebellion have also planned to show their “support for 150 citizens” through various events across France this weekend.
The citizens had hoped that the head of state would be there on Sunday, but it is Elisabeth Borne, the minister of ecological transition and solidarity, who will receive their proposals. Emmanuel Macron will instead meet with the citizens and respond to them in the coming days. In the meantime, the government will have to assess the recommendations and finetune its response.