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Climate Planning and Action in France: Fuel Taxes, Yellow Vests, and Grand Débat

Authors: Randy Peppler*, University of Oklahoma, Sophie Plassin, University of Oklahoma
Topics: Human-Environment Geography, Environment
Keywords: Yellow Vests, carbon tax, climate justice, discourse analysis, France
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


After successive Conference of the Parties (COP), governments have engaged to reduce carbon emissions. France, a vocal leader, has proposed its own measures, including a carbon tax on auto fuel. However, a significant portion of the French population opposes such a tax on individuals, when taxes for corporations and the wealthy have been relaxed. As discontent increased, in November 2018 the populist Yellow Vest movement, which generally opposes fiscal policies that are perceived as unjust for lower and middle income French households, took up the cause in protest against the fuel tax.

In this talk, we examine the Yellow Vest narrative that argues the tax is unjust, discuss the government’s climate discourse and responses, and more specifically we explore the issue of climate justice.

To do so, we conducted a historical review of climate plans and carbon tax proposals in France from President Jacques Chirac to the present, and analyzed from a mass media review the discourse of the Yellow Vest protests and underlying rural/suburban/urban transportation tensions in France. We also studied President Macron’s and Prime Minister Philippe’s words and the results of the subsequent Grand Débat (Great National Debate).

Our analysis shows that successive French governments failed to consider that rural and suburban populations rely extensively on their auto to commute to work and to access services, as few alternatives such as public transportation are available. We argue that climate action planning should target more equitably individuals, corporations, and transportation modes to be accepted more broadly.

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