As France’s experience shows, there are myriad obstacles when the benefits of staving off climate change are felt long term, while the costs hit home now.
PARIS — French Prime Minister Édouard Philippe announced Tuesday that the French government will temporarily suspend a carbon tax plan that triggered weeks of often violent protests nationwide.
To help curb climate change, the government had proposed the taxes, which were slated to take effect in January and were designed to wean consumers off diesel and other polluting fuels and to favor electric cars. But the price increases those taxes represented led to social unrest unseen in recent years that quickly became a full-blown crisis, and President Emmanuel Macron became the latest world leader to suffer at home for trying to impose green taxes.
“No tax is worth putting in danger the unity of the nation,” Philippe said as he announced the suspension.
The French government’s announcement came as delegates from around the world gathered in Katowice, Poland, for a climate conference designed to advance guidelines for how to meet the demands of the 2015 Paris agreement.
Macron has ranked among the most passionate advocates of curbing climate change by any and all available means, and his government’s reversal is likely to cast a pall over this week’s conference.
Even before the French decision, delegates were grappling with a world that has fallen far short of the commitments made in Paris, with no clear road map to targets.
“As we all know, we are not on track,” U. N. Secretary General António Guterres told delegates at the climate conference Tuesday. He called on countries to “raise their ambition” in reducing emissions and promoting alternatives to fossil fuels.
But as France’s experience in recent days shows, there are myriad obstacles when the benefits of staving off climate change are felt long term, while the costs hit home now.
For the better part of three weeks, protesters – clad in high-visibility yellow vests – took to the streets across France. In Paris, the scenes were particularly violent, with demonstrators defacing monuments, torching cars and smashing shop windows.

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