France Climate Bill Bans Short Domestic Flights, But It's More Than a Stunt

The country's sweeping climate bill, which passed a major hurdle on Saturday, is one of the only pieces of national legislation that treats climate change like the emergency that it is.
Air France
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As part of a sweeping climate bill, France is set to ban all domestic flights that can be traveled by train in under two and a half hours. The topic has garnered lots of international news coverage, some even mistakenly proclaiming the ban has already been voted into law. The National Assembly passed the bill on Saturday, but it still needs two more votes before the bill becomes law. The final vote won't be until September.

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But, thanks to a few exceptions and caveats, this is neither the most impactful nor the most noteworthy change in the bill should it become law. There are several other provisions that will have a much larger impact on the country's emissions. And they're measures other countries like the United States can more easily emulate. 

Now, about the proposed domestic flight ban. According to the travel blog One Mile At A Time, it will only impact five routes: Paris Orly to Bordeaux, Lyon, Nantes, Rennes; and Lyon to Marseille. Many of these routes haven't been operating during COVID, but they're roughly equivalent in terms of flight time as New York to DC or Los Angeles to San Francisco. It does not apply to private jets, includes an "adjustment" for routes that provide mainly connecting services—thus likely ruling out any flight to Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport, the country's main international hub—and for low-carbon flights such as those using low carbon jet fuel. In other words, this particular provision of the bill has minimal impact.

That being said, the rest of the bill has many impressive proposals (here's a brief rundown of 12 of the most important provisions from the country's ecology minister). The bill would ban fossil fuel advertisements, create low emission zones in any city with more than 150,000 people by 2024, ban the sale of most gas-powered cars by 2030, and significantly limit building on undeveloped land.

There are even much better proposals in the bill relating to the aviation industry than the partial domestic flight ban. The bill mandates all emissions from domestic flights be offset starting in 2024. Perhaps most importantly, the bill bans airport expansions that would result in higher carbon emissions by, for example, adding new runways, something environmental activists around the world have been fighting for years. 

So, yes, the domestic flight ban is a bit of a stunt—or, more generously, a compromise from the initial proposal of banning any flight that could be replaced with a four hour train trip. But every sweeping omnibus bill has a number of stunts. It is still one of the only national-level laws passed in the world that even begins to treat climate change like the global crisis that it is. The U.S. may not be able to replicate the domestic flight ban any time soon thanks to our pathetic rail network, but we could do the rest if we wanted to.