A ban on short domestic flights for journeys that can be completed in two-and-a-half hours by train was signed into law in France on Tuesday.
Clement Beaune, France’s transport minister, heralded the decree.
“This is an essential step and a strong symbol in the policy of reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” Beaune said in a statement.
“As we fight relentlessly to decarbonize our lifestyles, how can we justify the use of the plane between the big cities which benefit from regular, fast and efficient connections by train,” he added.
Only three routes have been discontinued: those linking Paris-Orly airport to the cities of Bordeaux, Nantes and Lyon. Connecting flights will be unaffected.
For the ban to apply, the EU insisted the air route in question must have a high-speed rail alternative that makes it possible to travel between the two cities in less than two-and-a-half hours. There must also be enough early and late-running trains to enable travelers to spend at least eight hours at the destination.
Some have criticized French President Emmanuel Macron for watering down proposals from his own environmental panel, which had recommended a ban on flights where a train journey would take fewer than four hours.
Critics have pointed out that high-speed train lines were already draining passengers away from airlines and that the ban pays lip service to climate concerns without really doing anything about them.
“No one will be fooled by this measure: passengers are naturally turning away from taking flights on these routes,” Guillaume Schmid, former vice president of Air France’s pilots’ union, tweeted.
“The French flight ban is a symbolic move, but will have very little impact on reducing emissions,” said Jo Dardenne, an aviation director at cleaner transport campaign group Transport & Environment.
T&E estimates that the three routes affected by the ban represent only 0.3% of the emissions produced by flights taking off from mainland France, and 3% of the country’s domestic flight emissions (counting only mainland domestic flights).