Back in June, while the news was full of articles about how COVID-19 shutdowns were resulting in reduced pollution and sparkling skies, French President Emmanuel Macron said that he was “open” to reforming the French constitution to enshrine protection for the climate and the environment. Many considered it a soft promise, and there was a great deal of debate and skepticism of whether anything would come of it.
On Monday, December 14, Macron confirmed that he will put a proposal to referendum about the constitutional change. With the help of the Citizen’s Climate Convention, made up of 150 randomly chosen French citizens, the proposal is to change the first article of the constitution to include the phrase, “the [French] Republic guarantees the preservation of biodiversity and the environment and fights against climate change.”
The proposed reform will be part of a drafted climate bill that seeks to translate about half of the 149 measures of the Paris Climate Convention into French law.
“Constitutionally, [the proposed constitutional reform] will first have to pass through the National Assembly and the Senate and be voted with identical wording,” said Macron. Once that’s done, “it will be submitted to a referendum.” After that point, it will be up to national lawmakers to determine a timeline for the referendum. It will most likely happen sometime in mid to late 2021.
An earlier version of constitutional reform to the same effect was rejected by Macron in June, because he said that version’s wording would have put “the rights of nature above human rights.”
France is not the first country to enshrine environmental protections in their government’s highest documents. Denmark, considered by many to be the most environmentally responsible country in the world, included “protection of the resources of the wilderness” in their constitution when the country wrote its first constitution in 1849. But with modern climate politics currently centered in France, this is a massive precedent to be setting.