By Constant Méheut
© The New York Times Co.
PARIS » As France reels from a summer of extreme temperatures and soaring energy prices, prompting increasingly urgent calls to rein in polluters contributing to global warming, one high-flying culprit is finding itself in the cross hairs: the private jet.
In recent days, France’s transportation minister called for flights by such planes to be restricted because of their outsize contribution to climate change, and a prominent lawmaker for the Green Party said he would soon introduce a bill to ban them altogether.
The announcements have struck a chord in France, where weeks of severe drought and wildfires have brought home the realities of global warming, stoking a larger debate about consumer responsibility for addressing climate change.
Calls for better conservation of energy are also growing in France, like in much of Europe, as the war in Ukraine squeezes supplies of gas and oil.
“Without resorting to demagogy or launching ad hominem attacks, there is certain behavior that is no longer acceptable,” Clément Beaune, the transportation minister, told Le Parisien newspaper on Saturday, as he announced his plan to regulate private jets.
Beaune’s advisers said he was considering several options, including requiring companies to disclose trips taken on private planes or expanding the European Union’s emissions trading program — which caps how much carbon companies are allowed to emit — to the jets. Beaune said he would consult with bloc partners on the issue.
The aviation sector is considered one of the world’s top carbon emitters. And private jets are estimated to cause five to 14 times as much pollution as commercial planes per passenger, and 50 times as much as trains, according to a study published last year by Transport & Environment, a group campaigning for cleaner transportation.
The study showed that France, with a capital city in the north and a Mediterranean Riviera prized by the superrich in the south, had the second-highest level of emissions from private jets in Europe, after Britain. In 2019, one-tenth of all of the country’s outbound flights were with private jets, according to the study.
In recent months, some social media accounts in France have started tracking flights several French billionaires take with the jets, adding to the public outcry over the use of the planes.
On Twitter and Instagram, popular accounts with names like I Fly Bernard — a reference to Bernard Arnault, the head of the luxury giant LVMH and one of the world’s richest men — have made public the billionaires’ trips and released estimates of their carbon emissions.
On Friday, I Fly Bernard wrote on Twitter that the private jet belonging to the company of the French media mogul Vincent Bolloré had made three flights on the same day in a journey between France and Greece, releasing 22 tons of carbon dioxide, the equivalent on average of 10 years of emissions for a car in France, based on figures from the organization Greenpeace.
“This simple little tool is extremely powerful because you suddenly understand that something is wrong,” Julien Bayou, a member of France’s National Assembly, the lower house of Parliament, and the leader of the Green Party said, referring to the social media trackers.
Bayou said he was planning to introduce a bill in October, when the Parliament reconvenes after a summer break, to ban private jets. He added that a ban on other energy-intensive private transportation such as yachts would also be considered. “It’s a question of justice and equality,” he said.
Last year, France passed a climate law that prohibited domestic flights for journeys that can be made by train in less than 2 ½
hours — unless they connect to an international flight — but the ban exempted private jet trips.
Bayou said the proposal gained momentum in recent weeks because “it’s perhaps the first time that we see that climate change is profoundly unequal.”
A scorching summer has made the reality of the ravages of climate change all too apparent to France, with wildfires ripping through the southeast and the most severe drought on record drying up water reserves in dozens of municipalities. As authorities imposed water restrictions in almost all of mainland France, conflicts erupted, with many people questioning what they saw as privileges granted to the wealthy.