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Macron’s Carbon Tax U-Turn Dismays UN Climate Talks


KATOWICE, Poland — France’s sudden U-turn over an unpopular fuel tax in the face of violent anti-government protests sent shivers through the COP24 climate summit.

That’s because the sight of one of Europe’s most climate ambitious countries beating a hasty retreat over a proposal that would have hiked gasoline tax by 4 cents, or just under 3 percent, highlighted the difficulty of imposing any economic pain in the name of tackling climate change. The tax proposal sparked weeks of riots that devastated Paris, blocked highways across the country and left four people dead.

“The way forward is not easy, is not straightforward,” European Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič said at the talks in Katowice. “In the end it will be the people’s decision how much they’re ready to change the way they behave, how they live.”

France’s troubles were seized upon by climate skeptics to underline the unpopularity of costly decarbonization efforts.

U.S. President Donald Trump retweeted a post from right-wing activist Charlie Kirk that read: “There are riots in socialist France because of radical leftist fuel taxes.”

“If France is putting a brake on the carbon tax, it puts a brake on energy transition and sends a very bad signal to economies that rely on coal” — Pierre Cannet, from WWF France

The tax increase, which was due to take effect from the beginning of next year, was on Tuesday suspended for six months. The government will spend several months looking for “just and effective support measures. If we don’t find any, we’ll draw our conclusions,” French Prime Minister Édouard Philippe said on Twitter. He also said France will freeze gas and electricity prices through the winter.

“If France is putting a brake on the carbon tax, it puts a brake on energy transition and sends a very bad signal to economies that rely on coal, on fossil fuels, and shows that every nation is just slowing down,” said Pierre Cannet, head of climate and energy policy at WWF France.

The retreat happened as scientists warn that the chances of limiting global warming to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius look increasingly shaky. International Energy Agency said on Tuesday that carbon dioxide emissions are set to rise in 2018 for the first time in five years.

“It is particularly worrisome for global efforts to meet the Paris Agreement,” the agency noted.

Jobs vs. climate

The Polish government, the host of this year’s climate talks, has repeatedly said that climate action shouldn’t harm the economy and workers. In case negotiators didn’t get the message, Polish coal companies are among the official sponsors of the conference, and the main venue is decorated with actual lumps of coal.

Coal “will not disappear. We have to remember about the economic and social costs for the economy,” said Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki.

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