Environment in France  page still under construction
 Misc. facts & figures    
  • Europe : for environment as well as for most policies, France must follow European regulation and European countries tend to get closer and closer. The major specificities are :

    • France is very indisciplined and has been condemned several times to heavy fines by the European Court of Justice for not following Environmental European "directives" (laws), for instance regarding the protection of migratory birds (not to alienate hunters), of fishing resources (not to alienate fishermen), nitrogen in water (not alienate Breton farmers) etc...

    • nuclear : France has a very strong and long - established nuclear policy where for instance Germany has banned nuclear power-plants

  • The Kyoto protocol : France discharges 3 times less CO2 per inhabitant than the USA : 8 tons per inhabitant per year compared to 24 (see detailed figures) due to :

    • the importance (almost 80%) of nuclear power plants in the production of electricity
    • the much lower gas consomption of European cars
    • much less waste of energy in housing (heating, air-conditioning, etc...)
    • much better systems of public transport : fast trains, metro, street cars.
    • more energy-efficient urban development (less urban sprawl)
  • In comparison to the USA, France ranks rather favorably on many environmental indexes (even if some US states like California have very advanced policies). Like most European countries, France ranks high for environmental policies. According to a ranking by Yale and Columbia (Source : Le Monde May 30, 2010), France ranks #7 (the first of G20 countries) when the US ranks only #61. Other countries are Iceland #1, Switzerland #2, UK #14, Germany #17, Japan #20, etc... Major differences (measured as the % reached of internationnally agreed targets) concern "vitality of ecosystems" (France 65,7, US 38,7) and "policy toward climate change" (France 56,4, US 29,4). See more detailed figures.

  • Politics : several political parties campaign at a national level on environmental issues. They are weak and divided and the three most significant did not represent more than 3 or 4 % of the vote altogether at the national level (but more at the local level) : the Green (les Verts) generally in association with the Socialist Party, Cap 21 ( less politically oriented) and Jose Bové (associated with extreme Left-wing). However in the 2009 European Elections, they did very well : Green (Europe Ecologie) : 16,3% and Alliance Ecologique 3,63% (the other parties : Right (UMP) 27,8%, Left (PS) 16,48%, Center (Modem) 8,4%). In 2012, after Hollande was elected president, their party (renamed Europe Ecologie-Les Verts EELV) obtained three ministerial positions in the cabinet.

  • Taxes (in France, everything starts and ends with taxes) : there is a strong trend toward generalizing specific taxes to finance the elimination of potentially polluting products. They already exist for cars (bonus/malus : a premium or a tax depending on the energy efficiency, up to several thousand euros), on packaging, on electronic devices, on batteries, etc... There is even a tax on paper plates and plastic glasses ("picnic tax") which is currently considered and, as I think no food or drink deserves that, I fully support it!

 
  • Parks : France has 10 national parks (Calanques near Marseille, Cévennes in Central mountains, Ecrins-the most visited one-, Vanoise and Mercantour in the Alps, Guadeloupe, Guyane and Reunion in overseas territories, Port-Cros on the Mediterranean sea, Pyrénées at the Spanish border) and 45 regional parks, covering altogether 15% of the country, quite a sizeable proportion. By the same token, the "Conservatoire du Littoral", a public body, purchases every year between 10,000 and 25,000 acres along the coast to prevent it from being developed and owns now more than 1,200 km of coast line and 300,000 acres, very significant figures. More about French geography.

  • The Grenelle de l'Environnement : in October 2007, the then-newly elected president Sarkozy organized large meetings to include effective changes in the policy of his administration regarding environmental concerns, following his campaign commitment (very popular environmental activist Nicolas Hulot had threated to run for President if the candidates did not commit to do anything significant in the field of environment). Key decisions include building additional 2,000 km of high speed rail network, four times more mass transit lines, suspending GM commercial crops, investing a billion euros in new energy sources, new generation engines and biodiversity (including a "green network" linking natural areas), tax credits for thermal renovation, new standards of energy efficiency in housing, a "green disk" for cars (a bonus for energy efficient cars and tax for others), etc...

  • Environment and hunting : Hunting is a big issue in France. The number of hunters is close to 2 million and they are very attached to the right to hunt. This goes back to the French Revolution which abolished the exclusive right of nobility to hunt and now hunters can hunt on any private property. They even have their own political party. Ecologist movements of course support the European restriction to hunting endangered species and hunting migrating birds on their way back to Europe. But the European regulation is constantly challenged by French hunters who consider the ecologists their worst enemies.

DID YOU KNOW THAT ....? Environment is one of the causes of anti-Americanism in Europe in general and in France in particular. The French were very shocked when the USA refused to sign the Kyoto agreement and the Americans are considered energy wasters who damage the Earth with their energy-inefficient cars, the absence of efficient public transport in cities and the absence of a real passenger train network, the waste of energy in houses , etc... The French do that as well, but on a much smaller scale. By the same token, the French expected that the Copenhagen Conference on Climate (Dec.2009) would bring significant commitments of the major "carbon polluters" (China, USA, India). They were disappointed when it failed and blame it on the USA.

  • When the "precautionary principle" hits France's energy future : the shale gas resource : In Europe, it seems established that France has the second most important resources of shale gas after Poland (more than Qatar!). Whatever the estimation, enough for many years or decades. In July 2012, the Minister of Environment (an Ecologist activist) decided that all the exploration permits (64 in all) which had been attributed would be void for environmental reasons. When some protested, the President answered that it would be reconsidered when a new technique of extraction, other than hydraulic fracturing, is discovered (but no announcement of a research program … ). On a general basis, the "precautionary principle" was introduced in the French Constitution in 2005 : if it had been before, there would probably be in France no electric lamps, no cars, no planes, no aspirin, etc… but maybe only some ecologists. Other examples of the insanity of the "precautionary principle" include the general prohibition of GMO, the decision to reduce drastically the production of electricity from nuclear power plants and many others.

  • More to come.....

 

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Harriet Welty Rochefort writes articles and books about France and the French. Order her books :

  • "Joie de Vivre", Secrets of Wining, Dining and Romancing like the French, St.Martin's Press, New York, 2012
  • "French Toast, An American in Paris Celebrates The Maddening Mysteries of the French", St.Martin's Press, New York, 1999
  • "French Fried, The Culinary Capers of An American in Paris", St.Martin's Press, New York, 2001

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