France bans short-haul flights as it looks to cut transport emissions

Environment

An airplane in the skies over France. The government there wants to cut short-haul flights in the country to reduce emissions.
Alain Pitton | Nurphoto | Getty Images

A French ban on domestic short-haul flights when alternative train journeys exist came into force this week, with one lawmaker hailing it as “an essential step” in the country’s efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

The law, which was published via decree, essentially prohibits public internal flights between French destinations when a train journey of under 2 hours and 30 minutes is available.

France is home to an extensive high-speed rail network. According to a CNBC translation, the flight substitution applies only when train travel “provides a satisfactory alternative service.”

It means public passenger flights between Paris-Orly and cities like Bordeaux, Nantes and Lyon, are affected by the law. Connecting flights are not impacted.

In a statement translated by CNBC, Clément Beaune, transport minister, described the move as “an essential step and a strong symbol in the policy of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”

Beaune also said the ban was a “global first that is fully in line with the Government’s policy of encouraging the use of modes of transportation that emit fewer greenhouse gases.”

The World Wildlife Fund describes the environmental footprint of aviation as “one of the fastest-growing sources of the greenhouse gas emissions driving global climate change.”

The WWF also says air travel is “currently the most carbon intensive activity an individual can make.”

The news out of France comes as the wider debate about private jet use wages on. In March 2023, analysis published by Greenpeace showed the number of private jet flights in Europe last year jumped by 64% to a record high of 572,806.

The use of private jets by high-profile, wealthy people generates a large amount of discussion.

During a BBC interview earlier this year, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates was asked for his view on the charge that a climate change campaigner’s use of a private jet was hypocritical.

“Well, I buy the gold standard of, funding (CO2 removal firm) Climeworks to do direct air capture that far exceeds my family’s carbon footprint,” Gates, who was being interviewed in Kenya, replied.

“And I spend billions of dollars on … climate innovation. So, you know, should I stay at home and not come to Kenya and learn about farming and malaria?”

The billionaire added that he was “comfortable with the idea that, not only am I not part of the problem by paying for the offsets, but also through the billions that my Breakthrough Energy Group is spending, that I’m part of the solution.”

While the direct air capture sector has high-profile backers, it faces challenges. The International Energy Agency notes that capturing carbon dioxide from the air “is more energy intensive and therefore expensive than capturing it from a point source.”

It adds that technologies like direct air capture “are not an alternative to cutting emissions or an excuse for delayed action, but they can be an important part of the suite of technology options used to achieve climate goals.”

—CNBC’s Sam Meredith contributed to this report

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