‘Yellow vests’ spark EU debate about just transition to clean energy

(EurActiv, 27 Nov 2018) Protests against high fuel prices in France have propelled climate policy to the forefront of the political debate, just days before Poland hosts the UN’s annual conference on climate change, with a focus on the “just transition” to low-carbon energy.

Since 17 November, protesters clad in fluorescent jackets, dubbed “yellow vests”, have blocked highways across France, setting up burning barricades and deploying convoys of slow-moving trucks to complain about fuel prices.

The unrest initially focused on the French carbon tax, – which added about 10 euro cents to the litre of petrol and diesel – reached new heights in Paris over the weekend when police clashed violently with thousands of demonstrators on the Champs-Elysées.

Protesters framed the unrest as a social backlash to the climate policies of France’s former ecology minister, Nicolas Hulot, the architect of the French carbon tax.

“It’s a big joke and a hoax when I hear about the energy transition,” said Benoît Julou, a spokesperson from the “yellow vests” movement in Brittany, who was addressing Hulot during a political talk show on French television last Thursday.

For Julou, the calculation is simple: ecological taxes on fuel are unaffordable for people who live on €1,200 per month and pay €450 in rent. And the government’s proposed €4,000 aid scheme for people to scrap their old diesel in favour of an electric vehicle is insufficient to buy cars that cost €10,000 at least, he said.

“We are not against the ecology, on the contrary. But you’ve lost touch with reality!” Julou told Hulot.

French people seem to agree. An opinion poll published in Le Journal du Dimanche on 18 November found 62% of French people give the highest priority to purchasing power – even if that means delaying the energy transition.

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EurActiv, 27 Nov 2018: ‘Yellow vests’ spark EU debate about just transition to clean energy