This article was updated on the 24th July 2018.
Welcome to France
While France does have several booming urban areas, the country is mostly supported by and known for its agricultural industry and products. As the European Union leader in food exports, France has been blessed with fertile plains that span across two-thirds of its area, thereby allowing the country to cultivate more than 50% of its land.
In addition to fertile plains, France is also home to numerous forests that cover approximately one-third of the country, as well as various mountain ranges in the south. While climate in the north is typically humid and cool, southern France typically has a warmer and drier climate. In particular, the increased heat that exists in the southern part of France is advantageous for growing grapes and subsequently supports the production of the world-famous French wine by the world's largest winemaker.
The beautiful vineyards of southern France have become synonymous with the country
Image credit: FreeProd33 / Shutterstock.com
In regards to telecommunications, biotechnology and aerospace advancements, France also excels in promoting the development of these technologies. Additionally, France also has robust machinery, chemicals, automobiles, metallurgy, electronics and textile industries. Nuclear power plants of France supply approximately 80% of the country's total electricity, while is particularly crucial for a country like France that lacks any domestic oil reserves. Coal and steel industries are focused in the northeast part of France near large coal fields.
Over the last several decades, France has undergone a period of deindustrialization and increasing affluence that has resulted in an outsourcing of manufacturing. Similarly, an increase in both housing and infrastructure projects of France have been built to accommodate the country’s growing urban and coastal areas.
Environmental Issues of France
A shift away from industry over the past 30-40 years has led to many improvements in France’s environmental issues; however, a 2014 assessment by the European Environment Agency found that France can still improve. Although the reduction in industrial production has improved air quality in France since the 1990s, an increase in transportation infrastructure has caused the emissions produced from that sector to remain constant.
In March of 2014 during the Paris smog, the French government implemented the odd/even car band in an effort to reduce particle pollution. This initiative was successful in reducing pollution production during rush hour by approximately 20%; however, by December of 2016, citizens again increased their vehicle usage. To ameliorate this progress reversal, the Paris government enacted the sticker scheme in January of 2017 that requires all drivers to display anti-pollution stickers on any vehicle including cars, lorries, motorcycles and scooters. Each sticker can come in one of three different colors that indicates the vehicle’s age, cleanliness and air criteria, otherwise known as its ‘Crit-Air.’ The main goal of this sticker initiative is to ban less clean vehicles from the city in the event of a high pollution situation. Parisian government officials have also proposed to close roads to traffic, pedestrianize areas of the capital city and eventually ban all diesel vehicles in an effort to reduce car use and ultimately purify the air of this major city2.
Nuclear power makes up the vast majority of France's energy production
Image credit: Natursports / Shutterstock.com
Deindustrialization has also led to less water pollution from production facilities and urban wastewater. While this may be true, the water pollution that originates from agricultural sources has remained consistent in France. Although the EEA has found that phosphate levels in rivers have decreased by nearly half since 1998 as a result of better wastewater management and the reduced use of fertilizers, the levels of nitrate in French rivers continue to be stable and are rising in groundwater bodies.
Note that while 98% of France’s population has been documented to have access to clean water, about 1.5 million French citizens, particularly those living in the rural eastern and/or southern areas of the country, are still estimated to be drinking polluted water. Although the contamination rate of these waters have dramatically fallen by 35% since 2012, the rural areas of this country may still be exposed to high levels of pesticides and nitrates from fertilizers and livestock manure, as well as natural radioactive chemicals and lime. To address this concern, France has installed various household connections, public taps, tube wells, protected dug wells, springs and rainwater collection sources to protect their citizens from these contaminants3.
France’s affluence means that it also has a high demand for natural resources. While many improvements in resource-use efficiency have been made, increased efficiency has been offset by ever-increasing demand. In addition to an increasing use of resources, solid waste production collected per inhabitant each year has increased by 25 percent since 1996. In their response to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization’s concern on food waste, France was the first country to introduce specific legislation that addressed food waste that has ultimately led to only 1.8% of the country’s food production being thrown away each year. As impressive as this statistic is, France is eager to continue the fight against food waste and plans to have this number reach 0.9% by the year 20254.
Environmental Policies of France
As a member of the European Union, France is trying to change resource usage and production habits to ultimately reduce environmental concerns. Many national and territorial action plans are being carried out by the French government in an effort to reduce emissions of pollution into water. In particular, the country’s Ecophyto action plan and designation of nitrate vulnerable zones are leading to transformations in agricultural practices. Additionally, French wastewater treatment plants are being improved through the implementation of various infrastructure programs.
French policies have also started supporting the growth and development of environmentally-friendly businesses, of which includes the country’s support for both the research and development of clean technology. The proportion of environmental training is also contributing to a fast integration of ecological issues into the economy. Since 2004, the amount of environment-related jobs has jumped by 36%. In 2012, nearly 45,000 environment-related jobs existed in France, most of which were within the sectors of water, waste management and renewable energy. Additionally, the amount of students taking environment-related courses has also continued to increase, according to the EAA.
Laurent Fabius, Foreign Minister of France, states that we are on the edge of a climatic abyss and we have only 500 days left to avoid climate chaos.
Video credit: Brookings Institution / YouTube
Local planners are also implementing climate change measures, environmental hazards considerations and the creation of "green" and "blue" conservation corridors. France's urban planning law encourages the sustainable advancement of sub-national territories in order to balance out territorial development, environmental upkeep and reductions in contact with hazards and nuisances. "Green" city zones are also being created along with sustainable transport infrastructure.
Clean Technology in France
In recent years, the French government has aggressively pursued the embrace of clean technology through the use of government subsidies. Many French corporations have also been aggressively acquiring clean technology companies in the United States and other countries. In 2012, the French government passed laws aimed at boosting the country’s car industry based on clean technology. Measures in the legislation included subsidies for state payments for buyers of hybrid and electric cars from both foreign and French carmakers. Since 2015, French citizens owning electric or hybrid vehicles that produce emissions lower than 100 g CO2/km are eligible for federal bonuses.
Electric cars like these pictured in Nice, France in 2014 are being subsidised by the French government in efforts to reduce carbon emissions
Image credit: Veniamin Kraskov / Shutterstock.com
The plan also includes new spending to support suppliers of energy-efficient parts, the purchase of more electric and hybrid cars for the state and support modernization of the electric car industry. French corporations have also been snapping up clean tech companies around the globe. In 2009, the French government-owned Areva bought Ausra, a solar thermal developer and later announced it would build the first solar thermal plant in India. In 2012, Saint-Gobain acquired Sage Electrochromics, which makes automatically tinting windows to cut heating and air conditioning costs. Although the demand for producing green technology energy systems has increased, these companies have struggled with having a sufficient number of skilled workers to complete these projects. The construction industry therefore is interested in increasing the amount of training and certification programs in energy saving and installation that are available to the public to meet this growing demand8.
A Clean Future?
While France is still coping with the legacy of its industrial past, pressures of its massive agricultural sector and high resource demand, it appears the country is aggressively pursuing a cleaner future in both the public and private sectors. Over the next few years, France is expected to take the following steps to continue their dedication towards improving the environment:
- Increase taxation on high emission vehicles to improve air pollution
- Provide a sustainable form of financing both water infrastructure programs and wastewater services
- Continue to support the R&D and dissemination of clean technologies
- Promote agroecology by increasining the training, researching and financing programs8
- "France Facts" – National Geographic
- “Paris vehicle pollution sticker scheme comes into force” – The Guardian
- “Water Quality in France” – The Borgen Project
- "The French Revolution in Green Technology" – Forbes
- “France’s war on waste makes it most food sustainable country” – Reuters
- "France Boosts Subsidies for Electric and Hybrid Cars" – The Financial Times
- "France" – The European Environment Agency
- “Environmental Performance Reviews – France Highlights” – OCED