Policy paper 277

The need for a socially-just European Green Deal

Lessons from the Yellow Vests movement

Almost everybody agrees that the situation is disastrous and that fossil fuel consumption is at the root of this crisis. But it does not make much sense to blame those who cannot do without their car and for whom tax increase is just another outrage. Petrol can cost 1 euro or 1 euro 80, we will keep on driving. Unless we stay locked in our house.”

Quote from an article published on 13 November 2017, a few days before the first Yellow Vests’ demonstration, by the French independent local media “Rouen dans la rue”. Author’s translation

Recommended citation:
Defard C. 2022. “The need for a socially-just European Green Deal. Lessons from the Yellow Vests movement“, Policy paper, Paris: Jacques Delors Institute, 2nd June.


This policy paper aims at drawing lessons from the French movement of the Yellow Vests for EU climate policy. It argues that Yellow Vests were not against the carbon price or climate action per se, they were against socially-unfair climate policy.  The overall legitimacy and efficiency of the EU Green Deal would be strengthened if the polluter-pays principle is applied consistently, and if climate policies take into account people’s differentiated capabilities and responsibilities in the face of the climate crisis. The just transition is a narrow path that jointly addresses the climate and social emergencies and calls for renewed governance to better take into account daily realities of all citizens. If an EU carbon price on heating and road transport is eventually charged on EU citizens, mitigating risks of social backlash would require the adoption of : socially-fair price signals (e.g. remove exemptions for businesses, industry or aviation), more ambitious regulations (high Minimum Energy Performance Standards for existing buildings and CO2 standards for cars), adequate financing and technical assistance (sufficiently funded and frontloaded Social Climate Fund), and a more inclusive governance (mandate and support involvement of all stakeholders in the energy transition decision-making, include strong multi-level governance in the Social Climate Fund).  These recommendations hold with or without ETS2 but become all the more important if ETS2 is adopted. Beyond the need to avoid social unrest, the “Fit for 55” climate package is above all a unique opportunity to implement a socially-just transition that would alleviate existing carbon inequalities, hence strengthening the EU social cohesion and future resilience.