France

   

Environmental Policies

#6
Key Findings
As a key international voice on the issue of climate change, France scores relatively well (rank 6) with regard to environmental policy. Its score in this area has improved by 1.3 point relative to 2014.

While extremely active at the international level, the government has found it difficult to reach domestic targets. It has made little progress toward its own climate-change commitments in the last four years, in large part due to powerful lobbying interests. A decision to raise taxes on petrol and diesel beginning in 2019 provoked the Yellow Vest protests 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. Coal mines are to be closed by 2022, and oil exploration on French territory has been banned.

Water-quality goals have been undermined by the powerful agricultural lobby, and pesticide use has risen sharply in recent years. The municipal composting, recycling and waste-management sectors trail northern European counterparts. A new citizen initiative will produce recommendations on reducing greenhouse-gas emissions, with these to be submitted to parliament or to the people by referendum.

Environment

#14

How effectively does environmental policy in your country protect and preserve the sustainability of natural resources and environmental quality?

10
 9

Environmental policy goals are ambitious and effectively implemented as well as monitored within and across most relevant policy sectors that account for the largest share of resource use and emissions.
 8
 7
 6


Environmental policy goals are mainly ambitious and effectively implemented and are monitored within and across some of the relevant policy sectors that account for the largest share of resource use and emissions.
 5
 4
 3


Environmental policy goals are neither particularly ambitious nor are they effectively implemented and coordinated across relevant policy sectors.
 2
 1

Environmental concerns have been largely abandoned.
Environmental Policy
7
In its 2016 environmental report, the OECD stated that France had significantly improved its environmental performance over the last 10 years. However, its performance record with respect to environmental targets is not optimal. 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 or weakened by protest movements. 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 areas. This is due to lobby groups’ resistance to the full implementation of environmental policies. A government report in October 2019 noted that the country has been unable to make progress over the past four years, particularly with regard to meeting its own commitments to fight climate change.

France’s good performance with regard to carbon emissions (sixth place for CO2 emissions per GDP unit within the OECD in 2017) can be credited to the country’s nuclear sector. A July 2015 energy transition bill set several objectives, including a reduction of nuclear power’s share in total energy production from 75% to 50% by 2025, and an increase in the share contributed by renewable energy sources to 40% from what was then a 12.5% share. However, these goals are unlikely to be met, given the complex authorization processes for renewable energies. The Macron government has passed laws prohibiting oil exploration on French territory (including overseas territories), ordering a closure of coal mines by 2022, and closing the Fessenheim nuclear plant beginning in 2020.

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 in October 2016 to end the tax privileges it provided to diesel fuel. The decision to raise taxes on petrol and diesel from 2019 provoked the Yellow Vest riots in November and December of 2018, leading the government to withdraw this decision. This was reminiscent of a similar government retraction in 2014, when President Hollande was forced to cancel the so-called eco-tax on trucks. On 24 October 2019, France was condemned by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) for being unwilling or unable to reduce NO2 levels to meet EU targets in place since 2009. In April 2019, Macron announced a new initiative, launching a “Citizen Convention for the Climate,” which assembled 100 citizens representative of the French population to address the question: “How can greenhouse-gas emissions be reduced by 40% by 2030 in a spirit of justice and equity?” The proposals from that group in January 2020 will be submitted to the parliament or to the people by referendum. Some pesticides (e.g., Glysophate) will be banned in the future, but the government rejected an opposition request to advance the deadline, set by the European Union, in France.

In the field of renewable water resources, France has long experience dating to the 1960s, and has set up water agencies to monitor the use and protection of its 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 a need to respond to pressure from farmers, who are reluctant to abandon pesticides before substitutes become available.

The municipal composting, waste management and recycling sectors trail far behind counterparts in northern European countries. The situation is better with biodiversity and forests, the latter of 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 due to many countervailing interests (agriculture, construction and transportation), and protection levels have actually been reduced according to official reports.

To summarize, France has set ambitious environmental-policy goals, but implementation of governmental decisions has often turned out to be incomplete, producing only limited impact. This has been due to interference by conflicting interests, lobbies and government departments, which have been able to weaken environmental targets. Moreover, there is no systematic sustainability check reviewing the environmental effect of policies.

Citations:
OECD Environmental Performance Reviews: France 2016, Paris, OECD, 6 oct. 2016
L’environnement en France 2019. Rapport de synthèse
(https://ree.developpement-durable.gouv.fr/IMG/pdf/9782111570573_lenvironnementenfrance_edition2019_rapportdesynthese_v24_web_light.pdf)
OECD: Environment at a glance indicators, 19 November 2019
(https://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/sites/ac4b8b89-en/index.html?itemId=/content/publication/ac4b8b89-en)

Global Environmental Protection

#2

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, contributes to their being advanced and has introduced 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 contributes to their being advanced and/or has introduced some appropriate reforms.
 5
 4
 3


The government demonstrates commitment to existing regimes, but does not contribute to their being advanced and has not introduced appropriate reforms.
 2
 1

The government does not contribute to international efforts to strengthen global environmental protection regimes.
Global Environmental Policy
9
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 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 agreements with countries that are not part of the COP 21 agreement. It remains to be seen whether this commitment will prove to be anything more than a symbolic gesture. Generally, openness to drastic internationally approved protective policies reaches a limit when French interests are at stake. For instance, any policy threatening to reduce the nuclear energy industry’s growth capacity has been frowned upon by France, despite the unresolved issue of nuclear waste dumps.
Back to Top