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ENVIRONMENT

France to put a stop to fossil fuel production

The French government unveiled plans Wednesday to put an end to oil and gas production on its territory in a largely symbolic move it hopes will inspire bigger producing nations to copy.

France to put a stop to fossil fuel production
Oil refinery at Donges in western France. Photo: AFP
Under a draft law approved by cabinet, no new permits will be granted to extract gas or oil and no existing licences will be renewed beyond 2040, when all production in mainland France and its overseas territories will stop.
 
The country is a minor player in the global hydrocarbons industry, extracting the equivalent of about 815,000 tonnes of oil per year — an amount produced in a few hours by Saudi Arabia.
   
It imports about 99 percent of its oil and gas needs.
 
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French Minister for ecological transition Nicolas Hulot (L). AFP
 
But 39-year-old centrist President Emmanuel Macron has said he wants France to take the lead as a major world economy switching away from fossil fuels — and the nuclear industry — into renewable sources.
 
It plans to stop the sale of diesel and petrol engine cars by 2040 as well.
   
“We are the first country to take this step (phasing out fossil fuel production),” said Nicolas Hulot, the high-profile environmentalist named by Macron as minister for ecological transition in May.
   
“I think other countries are going to follow our path,” Hulot told AFP.
   
The minister later tweeted: “We are determined in the face of climate change at a time when disasters are hitting us hard.”
   
“Today unfortunately reality confirms every day that climate disasters are proliferating,” he said in a video unveiling the draft law. “In the United States they are talking about 100 billion dollars in damage for the last hurricane (Harvey),” he said.
   
The bill, which the government hopes will be passed by parliament before the end of the year, delivers on campaign pledges by Macron during his run for the presidency this year.
   
Above all it will affect companies searching for oil in the French territory of Guyana in South America, while also banning the extraction of shale gas by any means — its extraction by fracking was banned in 2011.
   
The only exceptions to the new rules will be for the capturing of gas from mines, which is considered desirable for security reasons, and one project in Guyana run jointly by oil groups Total, Shell and Tullow Oil.

ENVIRONMENT

France gets help from EU neighbours as wildfires rage

Firefighting teams and equipment from six EU nations started to arrive in France on Thursday to help battle a spate of wildfires, including a fierce blaze in the parched southwest that has forced thousands to evacuate.

France gets help from EU neighbours as wildfires rage

Most of the country is sweltering under a summer heatwave compounded by a record drought – conditions most experts say will occur more often as a result of rapid climate change.

“We must continue, more than ever, our fight against climate disruption and … adapt to this climate disruption,” Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said after arriving at a fire command post in the village of Hostens, south of Bordeaux.

The European Commission said four firefighting planes would be sent to France from Greece and Sweden, as well as teams from Austria, Germany, Poland and Romania.

“Our partners are coming to France’s aid against the fires. Thank you to them. European solidarity is at work!” President Emmanuel Macron tweeted.

“Across the country over 10,000 firefighters and security forces are mobilised against the flames… These soldiers of fire are our heroes,” he said.

In total, 361 foreign firefighters were  dispatched to assist their 1,100 French colleagues deployed in the worst-hit part of the French southwest.

A first contingent of 65 German firefighters, followed by their 24 vehicles, arrived Thursday afternoon and were to go into action at dawn Friday, officials said.

Among eight major fires currently raging, the biggest is the Landiras fire in the southwest Gironde department, whose forests and beaches draw huge tourist crowds each summer.

It had already burned 14,000 hectares (35,000 acres) in July – the driest month seen in France since 1961 – before being contained, but it continued to smoulder in the region’s tinder-dry pine forests and peat-rich soil.

Since flaring up again Tuesday, which officials suspect may have been caused by arson, it has burned 7,400 hectares, destroyed or damaged 17 homes, and forced 10,000 people to quit their homes, said Lieutenant Colonel Arnaud Mendousse of the Gironde fire and rescue service.

Borne said nine firefighting planes are already dumping water on the blaze, with two more to be in service by the weekend.

“Gigantic”
“We battled all night to stop the fire from spreading, notably to defend the village of Belin-Beliet,” Mendousse told journalists in Hostens.

On several houses nearby, people hung out white sheets saying: “Thank you for saving our homes” and other messages of support for the weary fire battalions.

“You’d think we’re in California, it’s gigantic… And they’re used to forest fires here but we’re being overwhelmed on all sides — nobody could have expected this,” Remy Lahlay, a firefighter deployed near Hostens in the Landes de Gascogne natural park, told AFP.

With temperatures in the region hitting nearly 40C on Thursday and forecast to stay high until at least Sunday, “there is a very serious risk of new outbreaks” for the Landiras fire, the prefecture of the Gironde department said.

Acrid smoke has spread across much of the southwestern Atlantic coast and its beaches that draw huge crowds of tourists each summer, with the regional ARS health agency “strongly” urging people to wear protective face masks.

The smoke also forced the closing of the A63 motorway, a major artery toward Spain, between Bordeaux and Bayonne.

The government has urged employers to allow leaves of absence for volunteer firefighters to help fight the fires.

Meanwhile, in Portugal, more than 1,500 firefighters were also battling a fire that has raged for days in the mountainous Serra da Estrela natural park in the centre of the country.

It has already burned 10,000 hectares, according to the European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS).

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