France

   

Environmental Policies

#10
Key Findings
As a key international voice on the issue of climate change, France scores relatively well (rank 10) with regard to environmental policy. Its score in this area has improved by 1.0 point relative to 2014.

While being extremely active at the international level, the government has found it difficult to reach domestic targets, in large part due to powerful lobbying interests. A decision to raise taxes on petrol and diesel beginning in 2019 provoked the “yellow vests” riots in 2018, leading to withdrawal of the decision.

The country has a good record on carbon emissions overall, but this is largely due to strong dependence on an aging nuclear-energy sector. Plans to reduce the nuclear-power generation share from 75% to 50% by 2025, accompanied by a strong increase in renewables, appear unlikely to be realized in full.

The Volkswagen scandal prompted the government to end long-standing tax benefits for diesel engines. Water-quality goals have been undermined by the powerful agricultural lobby, and pesticide use has risen sharply in recent years. Air-quality and waste-management efforts trail behind other European nations.

Environment

#13

How effectively does environmental policy protect and preserve the sustainability of natural resources and quality of the environment?

10
 9

Environmental policy effectively protects, preserves and enhances the sustainability of natural resources and quality of the environment.
 8
 7
 6


Environmental policy largely protects and preserves the sustainability of natural resources and quality of the environment.
 5
 4
 3


Environmental policy insufficiently protects and preserves the sustainability of natural resources and quality of the environment.
 2
 1

Environmental policy has largely failed to protect and preserve the sustainability of natural resources and quality of the environment.
Environmental Policy
7
Although the OECD in its 2016 environmental report attests that France has significantly improved its environmental performance over the last ten years, the performance record with respect to environmental targets is not satisfactory. According to OECD indicators, France is ranked in the lower middle group in most areas. Too often, environmental policies continue to be subordinated to sectoral policies, which are considered more important. The latest example was the October 2014 withdrawal of the so-called eco-tax on truck-transported goods, which was driven by fears of truck driver protests. While being extremely active at the international level (e.g., Cop 21 and related forums), France has been unable to reach its own targets in most of the areas. This is due to lobby groups’ resistance to the full implementation of environmental policies. In September 2018, this situation triggered the resignation of the minister for environment, Nicolas Hulot, a well-known activist and one of the most popular “green” figures in France.

France’s good performance on carbon emissions is credited to the nuclear sector in France. The objectives set out in the July 2015 energy transition bill (reduce nuclear power in total energy production from 75% to 50% by 2025 and increase renewable energy sources to 40% from its current 12.5% share) are unlikely to be met given the complex authorization processes for renewable energies.

Until the recent Volkswagen scandal, the government refused to deviate from incentives for diesel cars, as French companies have a marked preference for diesel engines. Following public pressure, the government decided to end the tax privilege it afforded to diesel fuel in October 2016. Additional symbolic measures have been introduced by the new Macron administration, such as the prohibition on further research into oil fields in France (whose production represents 1% of total consumption) or the announcement that by 2030 no cars using combustible fossil fuels would be available for sale in France. The decision to raise taxes on petrol and diesel from 2019 provoked the “yellow vests” riots in November/December 2018, which in turn led to the government withdrawing this decision. Some pesticides (e.g., Glysophate) will be banned in the future but the government rejected any attempt by the opposition to set a deadline sooner than the deadline set by the European Union.

The same contrast is observable in the field of renewable water resources. In principle, France supports a water policy and has set up water agencies to monitor the use and protection of its water resources. However, the objectives set out in the Ecophyto plan (2009) to enhance water quality have not been met by 2015. French authorities have been unable to resist the agriculture lobby, which is the largest consumer of water. The use of pesticides has increased by 29% (2008 – 2014). The attitude of the government is split between a desire to reduce pesticides and pressure from farmers who refuse to reduce their use.

The performance of municipal composting, waste management and recycling are far behind that of other countries.

Air quality is another problem. In the Paris region (Ile-de-France) in particular, but also in many other regions, pollution levels are still above EU targets. Symbolic policies, such as the prohibition of traffic one Sunday per month, are poor substitutes for efficient policies. Local governments are torn between the desire to cap and reduce air pollution, and pressure from car lobbies and users.

The situation is much better with biodiversity and forests, which are experiencing a growth in surface area. A new law on biodiversity was adopted in August 2016. However, the protection of biodiversity has met resistance in metropolitan France by many diverging interests (agriculture, construction and transportation).

Citations:
OECD Environmental Performance Reviews: France 2016, Paris, OECD, 6 oct. 2016

Global Environmental Protection

#7

To what extent does the government actively contribute to the design and advancement of global environmental protection regimes?

10
 9

The government actively contributes to international efforts to design and advance global environmental protection regimes. In most cases, it demonstrates commitment to existing regimes, fosters their advancement and initiates appropriate reforms.
 8
 7
 6


The government contributes to international efforts to strengthen global environmental protection regimes. It demonstrates commitment to existing regimes and occasionally fosters their advancement or initiates appropriate reforms.
 5
 4
 3


The government demonstrates commitment to existing regimes, but neither fosters their advancement nor initiates appropriate reforms.
 2
 1

The government does not contribute to international efforts to strengthen global environmental protection regimes.
Global Environmental Policy
8
All French governments in recent decades have been committed to advancing environmental policies at the global level. Under former President Sarkozy, France was among the leading group of countries trying to secure an agreement on climate change mitigation at the 2009 U.N. Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen. In this tradition, French diplomats were particularly active in preparation for the U.N. Climate Change Conference chaired by France in December 2015. The global agreement reached at this conference is a success for French diplomacy. This commitment is supported by the entire political class and Macron has fully endorsed the policy choices made by Hollande. For instance, Macron has tried to convince the U.S. president, Donald Trump, to remain committed to the pledge of the previous U.S. administration and announced at the United Nations in September 2018 that France would not sign any international agreement with countries which are not part of the COP 21 agreement. It remains to be seen if this commitment will be more than a symbolic gesture. For the openness to internationally approved, more drastic and protective policies reaches a limit when French interests are at stake. For instance, any policy which would reduce the capacity of the nuclear energy industry to grow is frowned on by France, despite the unresolved issue of nuclear waste dumps.
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