French MPs on Saturday voted in favour of the law proposal, which will lead to trains replacing some short domestic flights.
Flights will be banned only if there are several daily direct trains available for the same journey, and the train ride can be done in less than two-and-a-half hours, according to the bill.
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Which flights will disappear?
Transport Minister Jean-Baptiste Djebbari so far has only mentioned three lines that will be cut, all of which include the Orly airport south of the capital:
- Paris Orly-Lyon
- Paris Orly-Bordeaux
- Paris Orly-Nantes
The full details will appear in a coming government decree, but longer flights such as Paris-Nice (six hours by train), Paris-Toulouse and Paris-Marseille (both four hours by train) will continue as usual.
However, according to the draft law, the government will be able to scrap further routes by decree.
The law featured in a large bill proposed by the French Climate Convention – La Convention citoyenne pour le climat – set up to help the French government reach its goal of reducing carbon emissions by 40 percent by 2030, compared to 1990 levels.
The full bill is called Projet de loi sur la lutte contre le dérèglement climatique (Bill on the fight against climate change) and aims to decrease climate gas emissions by targeting several aspects of daily life, from travel to work to housing and agriculture.
It is a watered-down version of the initial Citizen Council’s proposal, which wanted to abolish flights that could be replaced by a train trip of less than four hours.
Djebarri defended the decision to lower the threshold from four hours to the adopted two-and-a-half by saying “the four-hour limit would have isolated landlocked territories” and “violated the equity” between different parts of the country.
How is France reacting to the bill?
The law has been the source of controversy and widespread criticism from both environmental activists and the airline sector.
Parts of the French political left say the law has been emptied of its initial power.
“If we had maintained the four-hour limit instead of two-and-a-half,” said Mathilde Panot, MP and member of the hard left party La France Insoumise, “we would have decreased these emissions by 33 percent, which would have helped France achieve its climate ambitions and respect its international commitments.”
“In 2019, Paris-Marseille was the third most used domestic flight and it emits 127,000 tonnes of CO2 a year,” she said, mentioning a flight route that would have been abolished with the four-hour threshold.
But Joël Aviragnet, a Socialist lawmaker from the Haute-Garonne region, said the law would lead to job losses and a “disproportionate human cost.”
His party colleague David Habib said the law would lead to “negative growth” and “unemployment”.
Airline representatives say the pandemic, which has been an economic disaster for the airline sector, made it the wrong moment to introduce laws that would harm their revenues.
But the government said flying less was a key step in reaching France’s climate goals.
“We know that aviation is a contributor of carbon dioxide and that because of climate change we must reduce emissions,” Industry Minister Agnès Pannier-Runacher told Europe 1 radio.
“Equally, we must support our companies and not let them fall by the wayside.”
The French government has promised up to €4 billion in emergency help to national airline Air France, which put its losses at €7.1 billion in 2020.
Cutting short flights was part of the deal Air France signed to get this economic help package.
What happens now?
When a bill passes through French parliament it goes over to the Senate for another examination before MPs vote over it for a third and final time.
The government has a majority in the parliament, which means the law will likely pass.