France has recently passed a new law sweeping environmental agenda that puts the European nation at the forefront of climate leadership. On Tuesday, the French National Assembly voted to immediately ban any new licenses for oil and gas exploration. It also ceases all oil and gas extraction in mainland France and all its territories by 2040.
The new law passed also makes permanent a former probation on fracking within France. Just a week after that, a major US study provided evidence that hydraulic fracturing affects human health. The freshly passed environmental laws make France the first nation in the world to commit to a ban on oil and gas production. Although Costa Rica previously announced a moratorium on all petroleum exploration and extraction until at least 2021.
French President Emmanuel Macron tweeted, “Very proud that France has become the first country in the world today to ban any new oil exploration licenses with immediate effect and all oil extraction by 2040.”
He also included the #MakeOurPlanetGreatAgain hashtag in his tweet. It is the title of France’s official climate plan that echoes US President Trump’s oft-repeated campaign slogan to ‘Make America Great Again.’ In contrast to the progressive steps of the French, the American leader has also signaled an unwavering embrace of fossil fuels. The administration indicating the US will back out of the UN Paris climate agreement declaring “the war on coal is over”. Even though the US government acknowledges that there is no convincing alternative explanation for why climate change is happening.
While the ban by France is very bold and historic, it is also symbolic. The European nation produces the equivalent of about 815,000 tonnes of oil per year, Only a few hours worth of Saudia Arabia’s annual output. Still, it is an important step that can be followed by other countries around the world, especially when the light is turning away from fossil fuels now.
Just a week ago, the World Bank announced it would no longer offer financial support for oil and gas exploration after 2019. France is even bringing out US climate scientists abroad after nearly 2000 American researchers applied for French grants, having experienced a perceived devaluing of science under the Trump administration. In any case, France’s ecology minister Nicolas Hulot says that the new French bans ensure consistency between our laws and our climate commitments under the Paris agreement to remain below the 2 degrees Celsius limit. We must leave the majority of fossil fuels underground.
While France’s production of oil and gas is acknowledged, it is vastly outweighed by its consumption of imported fossil fuels, Hulot told French newspaper Sud-Ouest that nonetheless “we are the first country to take these type of measures”, saying the action “will create, I hope, a contagion effect.” It is too early to know if that will happen but with everything we know about the dark environmental future that may be ahead of us. Every little bit helps and right now we will take all the shining symbols we can get.