- Population (2020): 67,391,582 (ranked 22nd globally).
- GDP per capita (2021): USD$38,625 (ranked 27th globally).
- Emissions (2020) : 250.9 million Mt (ranked 19th globally).
- Earth.Org Sustainability Index Ranking: 4th.
Pledges & Targets
- Paris Agreement & NDC: France’s Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC), last updated in December 2020, targets the following:
- Reducing emissions by at least 37% by 2030, aligned with the European Union’s (EU) goal to achieve a net domestic reduction of at least 55% in GHG emissions by 2030 compared to 1990 levels.
- Road to Net-Zero: France aims to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions in 2050, and reduce consumption of fossil fuels by 40% by 2030
State of Affairs
After updating its NDC in December 2020, the French government renewed its climate targets and demonstrated further ambition towards achieving net-zero CO2 emissions by 2050.
As France is an EU member state, and is therefore party to the EU’s decarbonisation goals, the EU Emissions Trading System (ETS) aims for a 43% reduction of emissions whereas EU non-ETS sectors aim for at least 30% reduction of emissions. ETS is the first greenhouse gas emissions trading scheme across the globe and covers the emissions of over 11,000 factories and power stations across 31 European countries, providing an avenue for corporations to trade credits and incentivise lowering emissions. Non-ETS sectors include transport, agriculture, waste and some industrial manufacturing. Emissions from these sectors are not covered by the trading scheme. Since all EU member states must reduce their GHG emissions according to a fair share, France is expected to reduce its emissions by 37% compared to 1990 levels.
At a national level, France’s 2019 energy law was officially implemented and targets reducing emissions by 37% in 2030 compared to 1990 levels. The energy law stresses that “carbon neutrality is understood as a balance on national territory between anthropogenic emissions by the sources and the anthropogenic removal through greenhouse gas sinks.” The newly implemented law also focuses on increasing the share of renewable energy to 37% by 2030 and it also includes a target to reduce end-use energy consumption by 20% by 2030, compared to 2012 level.
In May 2021, the French parliament passed a climate change bill to prevent future airport expansions, prohibit open-air terrace heaters and reduce packaging waste. Firstly, this bill will ban all gas heaters at outdoor cafes and restaurants from April 2022. Secondly, state-run schools will offer a menu without meat or fish at least once a week and all supermarkets should reduce wasteful packaging to slash plastics use. Thirdly, the establishment or expansion of new airports are now prohibited. President Emmanuel Macron’s popularity will be enhanced with firm support from left-wing voters for upcoming national elections.
However, Macron’s administration and its recent climate policies were met with widespread resistance during the Yellow Vest Protests which first began in 2018. The government’s move to remove fossil fuel subsidies made fuel prices spike dramatically, and Macron was criticised for aggravating domestic wealth inequality. The government had few contingency plans and safety nets for people who would be affected by higher fuel prices, demonstrating exactly what not to do when weaning a country off fossil fuel subsidies.
The government’s policies neglected the fact that most middle and working class people living in suburban areas rely exclusively on private vehicles. Without expanding public transportation infrastructure, Macron’s policy decisions had a severe impact on France’s employment statistics and incomes. The government’s climate policies disproportionately affected middle and working class people while wealthier people in urban areas suffered little. As such, around 72% of French citizens support the Yellow Vest Protest to express their grievances against President Macron. In brief, the French democratic government has so far been unable to balance necessary climate policies with its people’s practical demands.
Climate Vulnerability & Readiness
The ND-GAIN Country Index by the University of Notre Dame summarises a country’s vulnerability to climate change and other global challenges in combination with its readiness to improve resilience. The more vulnerable a country is to climate change, the higher its vulnerability score, while the more ready a country is to improve its resilience, the higher its readiness score will be. France’s scores are:
- Vulnerability Score: 0.29 (ranks 11th out of 192 countries)
- Readiness Score: 0.653 (ranks 20th out of 192 countries)
Increased temperatures are threatening the major sectors of France’s economy, especially agriculture. As of mid 2019, France and several other European countries suffered from an unprecedented and record-high heatwave. Heatwaves have caused average temperatures to be at least five times higher than they would be in a world without anthropogenic warming. When observing historical temperature records over the past century, heatwaves of the kind now commonly seen during French summers have increased in frequency 100-fold since the early 1900s due to severe air pollution and human-induced activities.
This higher frequency of heatwave has resulted in more cases of drought, floods and severe storms. In this case, the agricultural industry has suffered the most in recent years. According to the climate change adaptation in the agricultural sector in Europe, “yields of non irrigated crops like wheat, corn and sugar beet are projected to decrease in southern Europe by up to 50% by 2050.” and “farmland values are projected to decrease in parts of southern Europe by more than 80% by the end of this century.” Despite the fact that the French government planned to offer a €1 billion recovery package to support the farming industry in 2020, farmers have continued to struggle to maintain output.
France’s entire coastal areas are also severely under threat from sea-level rise. Europe Ecology -a left-wing green political party- stressed that France is poorly prepared for the potential impact of rising sea levels on its coastline. As of 2021, more than 40% of the 36,500 French communes, home to approximately 4.5 million people, are exposed to rising sea levels.
Since ocean levels could potentially rise by 2 metres by 2100, this would incur dramatic impacts in the northern and south-west provinces of France. If a high sea-level rise scenario, which is more than 2 metres, occurs by the 2080s, then at least 463,000 people would suffer from flooding in France. In contrast, only 3,000 people could suffer from flooding annually if there is a low sea-level rise scenario (less than 2 metres). On the flip side, France’s port cities, their economies and the country’s trade industry would all be impacted by sea-level rise but it would be a mild situation in comparison to other countries, such as the Maldives.
Environmental Policies by Sector
- Renewables made up 15.3% of France’s total energy share in 2018, per IRENA.
- Between 2013 and 2018, the share of renewable energy in France’s renewable energy supply grew by 8.0%.
- In 2018, fossil fuels accounted for 47% of France’s energy supply. Renewable energy, such as bioenergy, accounts for 10%.
- In 2018, nuclear energy accounted for 43% of France’s energy supply and accounted for nearly 72% of electricity production share.
The French government has an ambitious plan to generate at least 34 GW from renewable energy sources by 2030. It highlights how France intends to progress towards the target of 33% of renewable energy in its energy mix by 2021. The plan includes a rapid expansion of solar panels, wind powers and hydroelectric infrastructure. For example, the European Investment Bank (EIB) offered a €350 million credit line to establish the 450 MW Courseulles-sur-Mer wind project. EIB also granted a €450 million credit line to the project. Most importantly, the French government’s Multi-Year Energy Programme plans to target a further installation of offshore wind of 5.2-6.2 GW in 2028. To gain popular support, in 2014 the European Commission also approved its guidelines on state aid for environmental protection and energy. The European Commission has approved a €30.5 billion French scheme to support production of electricity from renewable energy sources and achieve individual climate targets.
President Emmanuel Macron has announced a €1 billion investment in nuclear power by the end of this decade to complement the country’s transition away from fossil fuels. France is well-known as a bastion of nuclear power in Europe, as 70% of its electricity is currently being generated from nuclear power plants.
France has announced plans to draw down its dependence on nuclear power. Macron announced in 2017 that 14 reactors would soon be shut down, and that nuclear’s contribution to France’s energy mix would decrease from 70% currently to around 50% by 2035. France’s move to draw down nuclear power came as part of a global response of denuclearisation following the disastrous nuclear incident in Fukushima, Japan in 2011.
However, in the intervening years the country has maintained the operation of existing nuclear plants and raised the research & development budget for upcoming nuclear plans. Completely eliminating nuclear within such a short period of time may not be a very attractive solution, as it would likely mean more fossil-fuel based solutions. Nevertheless, given Europe’s imminent energy crisis, France is ambitious to continue its investment plan and export electricity to the rest of Europe in spite of safety concerns. The ongoing energy crisis is a rare opportunity for France to occupy more market share of nuclear energy in Europe. France has often portrayed itself as a “green country” given the lack of fossil fuel usage, although the expanded use of nuclear power does not mean the same thing as transitioning towards fully clean and renewable solar and wind energy.
- Between 2010 and 2021, 687,876 plug-in electric vehicles have been registered in France. The country’s electric vehicle fleet consists of over 450,000 all-electric passenger vehicles and commercial vans, and over 230,000 plug-in hybrids.
- The total sales of plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles rose from 2.5% to 7.5% from 2019 to 2021. France has over 30,000 charging points across the country.
- France has an intercity high-speed rail service. The service also extends to Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany. Switzerland, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands.
- Parisian buses will be 100% electric by 2025.
- Per International Air Transport Association, the air transport sector has a major contribution to the French economy as it relates to 1.1 million jobs and accounts for 4.3% of GDP. Charles de Gaulle Airport, the country’s main aviation hub, is the second busiest in Europe and one of the largest airports on the continent.
France has a well-developed transportation system with comprehensive infrastructure. The country currently possesses over 1.1 million km of roads, highways, railways and ranks. As this gradually exacerbates air pollution year by year, the French government also encourages the use of plug-in electric vehicles to alleviate the environmental impact. In particular, President Macron sets an ambitious target of over 1 million EVs in France by 2025. In this case, the government announced official financial incentives to purchase electric vehicles with at most 12,000 euros subsidy. Business and fleet buyers can receive €5,000 for an EV.
French lawmakers have also decided to prohibit short-haul internal flights and encourage the use of trains to slash carbon emissions. On these routes, flying a plane would emit 77 times more carbon dioxide per passenger than taking a train. While this policy was ambitious and world-leading in reducing transportation-sector emissions, it has attracted criticism from vested business interests in the country, including from its leading air provider, Air France.
Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo has also advocated for a more bike-friendly Paris metropolitan area, home to nearly 20% of France’s population. David Belliard, deputy mayor of urban transformation and Green party member, plans to “make our city 100% bikeable”. Since then, €180 million of new spending is ready to fulfill these plans, including plans for bike routes across the country, building crossings and key entry points into Paris central to protect pedestrians. According to the plan, the Parisian network of safe cycling paths will have a total of 180 km.
- 27.28% of France’s territorial space is protected, as are 50.36% of France’s marine areas.
- Per Yale’s Environmental Performance Index, 80.97% of the French’s population is urbanised.
- Yale EPI ranked France 9th in the world in terms of ecosystem vitality, which measures how well countries preserve, protect, and enhance their ecosystems and the services they provide.
- According to the World Bank collection of development indicators, forests covered 31.5% of France’s land in 2020. In 2010, France had 7.6 Mha of natural forest, extending over 31% of its land area. By 2020, it had lost 1.22 Mha of natural forest.
- Per Global Forest Watch, 0.19% of tree cover loss in France from 2001 to 2019 was due to deforestation. Two provinces (Nouvelle-Aquitaine & Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes) are responsible for 56% of all tree cover loss in these 2 decades. Nouvelle-Aquitaine has suffered the most tree cover loss at 560 kha compared to the country’s national average of 93.9 kha from 2001 to 2020.
In August 2016, the French government announced a biodiversity framework law. The law created several bureaucratic agencies tasked with safeguarding the country’s biodiversity. The framework also aims:
- To incorporate the polluter pays principle in the Civil Code; to strengthen the instruments for protecting endangered species via the creation of priority areas for biodiversity and areas devoted to the conservation of operational areas for fishing resources.
- To introduce long-term environmental protection measures with a contract entered into a legal person ensuring an environmental aspect;
- To limit the impact of plastic waste in the ocean so it has prohibited plastic microbeads in cosmetics in 2018 and cotton swabs with plastic sticks in 2020;
- Criminal sanctions to combat animal trafficking.
On an international level, France has shown its support to the European Commission to fulfil an ambitious biodiversity strategy in the framework of the European Green Deal. For example, they adopted a post-2020 strategic biodiversity framework.
Along with the rest of the EU, France has signed on to a global pledge to end deforestation by 2030, agreed upon with over 100 other countries at UN climate talks in November 2021.
- Per the global NGO Earth’s Endangered Creatures, France possesses 176 endangered species, of which 6 are plant species and 170 are animal species.
- Per the research group Animal Protection Index, France has enshrined into law legislation that recognises the sentience of animal species.
In 2007, the European Union signed the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU). Article 13 of the TFEU clearly states a formal recognition of animal sentience and urges all member states to “pay full regard to the welfare requirements of animals” in formulating and implementing European Union policies on agriculture, fisheries, transport, research and technological development.
In 2015, the French Civil Code recognised animals as sentient beings. Since then, Article 515-14 of the Civil Code clearly states that “subject to the laws which protect them, animals are subject to the regime of goods”. Also, the Penal Code punishes offenders who “physically or sexualy abuse, or commit an act of cruelty to a domesticated animal, or a tamed animal, or an animal held in captivity.” The maximum penalty is 2 years imprisonment and a €30,000 fine. Offenders may also be banned from owning animals for at least 5 years or more.
The French Civil Code also protects farming animals in alignment with the 1976 European Convention for the Protection of Animals. Article 3 states that “animals shall be housed and provided with food, water and care… appropriate to their physiological and ethical needs”. Article 4 stresses the freedom of movement of animals and Article 5 officially regulates the lighting, temperature, humidity, air circulation, ventilation and other environmental conditions. Article 10 states that breeding procedures that cause suffering or injury must not be practised in any circumstance. Also, the Penal Code prohibits cruelty, abuse and mistreatment of animals, conditions which also apply to farm animals.
- Per IQAir, in 2020 France averaged 11.1 µg/m³ (micrograms of air pollutants per cubic metre of air), ranking 77th out of the 106 countries and territories where data was collected.
- France has close to the maximum exposure to PM2.5 concentration recommended by the WHO. This implies that French residents are living in a place with moderate air quality.
- However, by European standards, France’s air quality is less than ideal. 35,800 premature deaths related to PM2.5 occurred in 2015, making France the European country with the 3rd highest rate of air pollution-related deaths.
- In 2019, France generated on average 546 kg per capita of municipal waste, close to the EU’s average municipal waste generation of 502kg per capita.
The European Commission will take France to the EU Court of Justice in order to ameliorate air pollution in 2020. France is confronting imminent legal action imposed by the European Union as the country’s air pollution has been affecting bordering nations. In particular, the EU’s top court concluded that France had violated limits on nitrogen dioxide pollution in twelve regions. What’s more, the French Council of State has been charged with the highest fine, worth €10 million euros, in response to the government’s failure to combat smog and toxic air pollution. In brief, the court has been monitoring the government’s environmental record and condemned that the government has done inadequate action to improve air quality. On the flip side, France has taken several measures to ameliorate air pollution, including 100% bikeable area and the prohibition of short-haul flight.
France also released over 11,000 tonnes of plastic waste in the Mediterranean Sea every year. The country only recycles 22% of its plastic waste, and incinerated a total of 3.4 million tons of plastic waste in 2016. France’s plastic waste crisis was incurred in large part by tourism and coastal activities. Coastal activities accounted for at most 80% of plastics entering the Mediterranean sea yet this figure may also be contributed by Italian tourism as well. Also, France plays a dominant role on e-waste in Europe. In February 2020, France passed a law addressing e-waste to focus on right-to-repair and right-to-reuse as the e-waste crisis became an imminent crisis in recent years because they would like to raise public awareness to re-use their existing electronic devices instead of merely purchasing a new one and abandoning the old items.
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