France’s patchy record on fighting climate change

French president Emmanuel Macron might be presenting himself as the leader in the fight against climate change but France doesn't have a wholly impressive track record when it comes to tackling global warming.

France's patchy record on fighting climate change

French President Emmanuel Macron, who has aimed to make himself a leader in the fight against global warming, is the force behind Tuesday's climate finance summit in Paris.

However, France's record on the environment is more nuanced, including both innovative measures and trouble building momentum in its actions to cut greenhouse gases.

The good

France is one of the industrialised countries that emits the least greenhouse gases per capita, largely due to its heavy reliance on nuclear energy for its power needs.

From 1990-2015 its emissions dropped by 17 percent in industry and energy, while the European Union's in those sectors decreased by 23 percent.

Paris is struggling to shrink its reliance on nuclear power, which is currently responsible for 75 percent of its energy mix. Its aim is to grow France's use of renewables.

France became the first nation, albeit not very oil-rich, to pledge to end drilling in 2040. It has promised to shutter its four coal-fired power plants by 2022. France has also hiked its carbon tax.

The criticism

Campaign groups point out that French energy giant Total wants to drill at the mouth of Amazon River and French government agencies finance fossil energy
projects abroad.

However, 50 percent of the projects by the French state's development agency, AFD, have for years helped fight global warming, agency head Remy
Rioux said.

He said the agency wants to support the Paris climate accord on slowing climate change, but that does not mean zero fossil fuels.

“We have to switch to renewables, but that will not happen overnight,” he said. The idea is to “help countries aim for the horizon of 2050… rather than adopt a strict prohibition.”

The future

France has committed to increasing its climate funding via AFD to five billion euros per year, from a current level of three billion euros, by 2020.

“We are on the way, with about four billion euros this year,” said Rioux, adding about 1.7 billion of that is bound for Africa.

However, national funding in favour of climate has stagnated, with an annual gap of 20-40 billion euros ($24-47 billion) between funds and needs,
according to the Institute for Climate Economics (I4CE) think-tank in Paris.

The sector most lacking in cash is the climate-friendly renovation of buildings, though France's Environment Minister Nicolas Hulot's climate plan
aims to encourage those types of building revamps.

Hulot's climate plan also seeks to boost the purchase of low-emission vehicles, which includes France's announcement it will end sales of petrol and
diesel vehicles by 2040.

'Saying vs doing'

Taxes on things that damage the environment accounted for 2.2 percent of GDP in 2015, compared to 2.4 percent in the EU, putting France in 20th place
in Europe, according to France's national statistics agency.

Campaign groups are worried by the free trade agreement with Canada that they believe weakens environmental standards, as well as by the suspension of
European negotiations on a financial transaction tax.

“At present, there is a difference between what (President Emmanuel Macron) is saying and what he is doing,” said Audrey Pulvar, a French journalist and activist.


School buses cancelled as southwest France braces for more rain

School bus services have been cancelled a storms hit one département in southwest France - with conditions set to remain difficult throughout the day.

Storms are hitting south west France
Storms are hitting south west France. Image: Shutterstock

Firefighters in the Carcassonne département of Aude – which was formally placed on orange weather alert by forecasters at Météo-France on Tuesday afternoon – have so far reported no significant damage after a night of heavy rainfall. 

But emergency services remain on alert with the autumnal storm system set to deposit more rain over the area on Wednesday before it moves away to the east.

So far, more than 144mm of rain has fallen in the area between Durban and Corbières and 133 mm in Coustouge.

To the east of the Corbières’ region, Météo France has recorded between 130 and 150mm of precipitation, and between 70mm to 100mm at stations in Leucate, Sigean and Carcassonne in just three hours early on Wednesday.

According to France’s floods watchdog Vigicrues, several towns in the east and south of the département – Feuilla, Fraissé-des-Corbières, Saint-Jean-de-Barrou, Sigean, Port-la Nouvelle, Peyriac-de- Mer, Narbonne and Gruissan – are bearing the brunt of the rainfall. 

It currently has seven yellow flood alerts in the Aude, indicating a ‘Risk of flooding generating overflows and localised damage, or a rapid and dangerous rise in water levels, requiring particular vigilance, particularly in the case of exposed and / or seasonal activities.’

The weather conditions have prompted the Aude préfecture to cancel school bus services on Wednesday around Bassin Versant de la Berre, Bassin Versant de l’Orbieu, and Bassin Versant du Verdouble, and urge residents to exercise caution as they go about their daily activities.

The system has generated significant snowfall at higher altitudes in the Pyrénées-Orientales, Haute-Ariège and Andorra. Up to 1m of snow is forecast in areas exposed to the easterly wind.

The rains are expected to intensify between Narbonne and the east of the Montagne Noire on Wednesday, with storms developing as the day progresses. An additional 120mm of precipitation could fall in localised areas during the day before the system moves east towards the Hérault then towards the lower valley of the Rhône and the Paca region on Thursday.

Light to moderate rains will persist in Aude overnight into Thursday.