Yesterday, Nicolas Hulot (French minister of “solidarity-based and ecological transition”) presented the draft of a law aiming at freezing fossil fuel exploration and extraction in France and French territories.

Hulot’s project is very reflective of international global leaders’ past & current commitments to climate action — whilst the law that the French parliament plans to adopt later this autumn sets a historic precedent, it also falls short on ambition.

It sets a precedent because France is the first country to (plan to) adopt a law banning fossil fuel exploration and extraction. But it falls short for three reasons:

  • France’s domestic fossil fuel production amounts to only 1% of France’s fossil fuel consumption. The “Hulot Act” would thus be mainly (if not entirely) symbolic. The problem with symbols is that they lose meaning if they are built on half-hearted measures. And this is clearly the case here.
  • The draft of the law states that exploration as well as production of “unconventional fossil fuels” is forbidden. A first draft excluded “coalbed methane” from its definition of non-conventional fossil fuels. A very odd choice, since all institutions, as well as the fossil fuel industry itself, define coalbed methane as a non-conventional fossil fuel. As such, the law would thus leave room for coalbed methane exploitation, especially in the North-East of France. The latest draft doesn’t mention this exception – a probable direct consequence of the worries that climate groups and organizations (including the local communities affected by coalbed methane extraction) expressed openly. However, the new version of the draft leaves the room open for the extraction of non-conventional fossil fuels – if the industry uses other technologies than fracking. 
  • The law only focuses on new exploration permits: they would be the only ones to be frozen, and current extraction permits would still run until their end (25 years for the newest ones). Current permits would be almost automatically transformed into extraction permits if the company owning the exploration permit requests it. The draft of the law doesn’t say anything about the so-called “droit de suite” – which legally means that the company owning an exploration permit should be the one granted an extraction permit. This is probably the point where Hulot’s project lacks the most ambition. Since the publication of Oil Change International’s report “The Sky’s limit”, we know that we can’t develop any new fossil fuel projects if we are to meet the objectives laid out in the Paris Agreement. It’s essential then, that the Hulot law contributes to the “planned obsolescence” of the fossil fuel industry – i.e. by including legal measures preventing exploration permits from automatically becoming extraction permits.

The good news is: we have some plans to campaign and strengthen the law (page in French), so stay tuned!

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