France’s €500m plan to cool its cities as heatwave strikes

The French government announced €500 million on Tuesday to encourage urban vegetation projects to tackle high temperatures in towns and cities as a heatwave began to strike in the south and southwest.

France's €500m plan to cool its cities as heatwave strikes
People stand on dried lawns as temperatures this week could exceed seasonal norms by ten degrees celsius in Lyon on May 18, 2022. (Photo by OLIVIER CHASSIGNOLE / AFP)

“The government is going to encourage the development of cool spaces in urban areas with strong support for local authorities as they adapt to the consequences of climate change,” government spokeswoman Olivia Gregoire told reporters.

A total of €500 million would be set aside for the initiative, she said.

She also called for “vigilance” as temperatures began to climb in the south and southwest of the country, which is expected to bear the full brunt of a heatwave later this week.

Peak temperatures of more than 40C are forecast between Thursday and Saturday, national weather forecaster Méteo France has said, with the whole of the country set to experience a hotter-than-usual spell.

“Faced with this significant, strong and early heatwave, the government calls for vigilance,” Gregoire added, saying the elderly, people living on their own and the homeless were particularly at risk.   

School children and teachers are also complaining about the impact of the hot weather which is coinciding with end-of-year exams for many students.

A primary school teacher in Marseille told AFP she had measured 30C in her class on Monday.

“We’re facing fully south and we couldn’t even open the windows to get some air in,” she said.

Water use restrictions are already in place in around a third of France — and utility companies are urging farmers, factories and public service providers to show “restraint” in their water use.

The spring has been exceptionally warm and dry so far, with May 2022 the warmest May since records began.

Under a 2015 law passed by parliament, all rooftops on new buildings built in commercial zones in France must either be partially covered in plants or solar panels.

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France destroys seaside flats threatened by coastal erosion

French authorities on Friday started demolishing a seaside block of flats that has come to symbolise the country's battle against climate change-linked coastal erosion.

France destroys seaside flats threatened by coastal erosion

When the four-storey building was built behind the beach in the southwestern Gironde region in 1967, it stood 200 metres away from the shoreline.

But its 75 or so flats in the town of Soulac-sur-Mer had to be evacuated in 2014 after the sea crept up to within 20 metres of the structure.

Local authorities scrambled to rid the building of asbestos in the following years, before a huge mechanical digger took a swing at its facade on Friday, as several former residents looked on.

“It’s the memories of four generations” that are being destroyed, said 76-year-old Vincent Duprat, one of the home owners.

The sea “has taken back what is rightfully hers”.

MAP The French towns at urgent risk from coastal erosion

Environment Minister Christophe Bechu said the demolition was a sign of “what the rising waters and coastal erosion have is store for lots of other areas along the French coastline”.

By 2100, 20 percent of the coastline and up to 50,000 homes would be affected, he said.

Erosion is a natural phenomenon that has helped shape our continents over millennia.

But scientists say it is being accelerated by the warming of the planet, exacerbated by rising sea levels brought about by melting ice caps and glaciers, and by the more powerful waves that warmer oceans hold.

The sandy beaches of the Bay of Biscay between France and Spain are expected to recede by 50 metres by 2050, the Observatory of the Nouvelle-Aquitaine Coastline says.

But climate change and rising sea levels could increase this by an extra 20 metres in some areas, the Observatory’s Nicolas Bernon said.

In 2020, after a seven-year legal battle, a court ruled that French authorities should compensate families who had been forced to evacuate the building in Soulac-sur-Mer to the tune of 70 percent of the original value of their homes.