France has just recorded its hottest October ever, while across Europe 2022 was the hottest summer ever recorded ‘by a substantial margin’.
Climatologist Françoise Vimeux, who works at the Institute of Research for Development (IRD), said: “We can see very clearly that temperatures are rising.
“In France, the temperature is increasing a bit more than the global average – regarding the global average, the increase in temperature in recent decades is about 1.1C.
“Looking at France specifically, this increase is 2C, and the increase we’ve seen has been a steady increase year on year.”
Rising temperatures, rising sea levels and extreme weather phenomena will affect the whole planet, but there are some specific ways that France is at risk from climate change:
France is known for its beautiful coastlines – from the cliffs in Normandy to the surf-able beaches in Biarritz. The country’s coastline is a popular place to vacation, buy a second home, or retire to. Unfortunately, climate change stands to strongly impact all of those things in the coming years.
Recently, a government report found that 126 municipalities – representing approximately one fifth of the French coastline – are at high risk of coastal erosion.
In France’s Aquitaine coast, about 2.5m of land per year are lost to coastal erosion. The majority of this is taking place on the Western coast of the country, with the government report listing municipalities in Brittany (41), in Normandy (16), and in Nouvelle Aquitaine (31).
— franceinfo (@franceinfo) October 26, 2021
This also puts the country at particular risk for increased marine flooding during storms, according to the most recent IPCC report.
Coastal erosion is predominantly caused by sea-level rise, which forces life further inland. This represents a real concern for French property owners on the coasts, as the tides draw closer in and the beaches wash away.
France is known for its wine industry – in fact, it currently brings the country €7.6 billion in exports and is responsible for employing over half a million people.
France is among the top wine exporters in the world, and much of that wine production is strongly attached to the idea of terroir – the particular terrain and soil where the wine is grown.
However, as temperatures rise, grapes tend to ripen faster. This results in higher sugar levels in the grapes, and therefore changing the eventual alcohol content of the wine. This strongly impacts not only flavour, but also growing techniques that are closely connected to the way certain wines are designated in France.
This is particularly pronounced in Bordeaux, where, since the 1980s, progressively rising temperatures have pushed the harvest to come earlier and earlier each year.
Warming winters also means that the grapes begin growing earlier, which leads to vines being particularly vulnerable to frost. If a cold-spell comes in early April, like it did in 2021, these grapes can be exposed to frigid temperatures at a crucial stage in their development. In April 2021, this meant that wine production in France was reduced by almost a third in comparison to previous years.
Incredible images from France this week. Vineyards lighting fires to keep the frost off the vines. Disaster for the small wine producers. pic.twitter.com/VxjcfHAoMf
— Dave Quinn (@InvestwiseFP) April 16, 2021
Ultimately, key wine producing regions including Bordeaux, Burgundy, and Champagne are at high risk for climate change, meaning that wines from these areas are likely to change in the years to come, even if they can be produced at all.
Around the world, wine-producing regions are shifting as temperatures rise, as the below map shows.
— I Fucking Love Maps (@IFckingLoveMaps) December 8, 2019
Ski season disruption
Warmer weather is not just limited to the summer months – warming winters means that snow is becoming increasingly rare at ski resorts below 1,500 metres.
— Florentin Cayrouse (@FloC36) March 15, 2021
Resorts at higher altitude are seeing their ski seasons gradually shrink, while the lower resorts are facing a future with no snow at all.
This does not pose a problem just for skiers and snowboarders. Warming temperatures on the slopes also increases risk of avalanche.
The most recent IPCC report found that of the 175 French ski resorts in the Alps and Pyrenees, only 14 to 24 of them, depending how high temperatures continue to rise, will be able to operate with natural snow in the near future (meaning between the years 2030 and 2050. If they resort to using artificial snow, which is controversial, this number rises to between 83 to 116.
The ski industry is a major employer in France – more than 120,000 people work in jobs connected to the ski season – and tourist businesses are already being forced to try and diversify or close down.
The human toll
The south of France is known as a tourist hot-spot, with warm temperatures and beautiful Mediterranean beaches. But as temperatures rise, these temperatures could become increasingly unbearable.
Heatwaves are expected to keep coming, and at higher temperatures. This poses a significant risk to human health in France – the city of Paris recently ran an emergency-planning exercise for the inevitable day when the temperature hits 50C.
In 2003, the country saw between 15,000 and 19,000 people die during an exceptionally severe heatwave. Since then, France has instituted heatwave alert systems and all local authorities are required to have heatwave emergency plans.
According to Vimeux, since 1947 France has “detected 40 heatwaves, with half occurring after the year 2000.”
But even with efforts to respond to heatwaves, rising temperatures also have other impacts on human beings. The IPCC report found that the tiger mosquito is expanding its presence in France. This increases the risk of transmission for diseases such as dengue, chikungunya and Zika.
What will happen to the baguettes?
France is the European Union’s largest grain producer, with about half of the country’s land dedicated to agriculture. Climate change has already begun to have serious impacts on this land, however.
According to the most recent IPCC report, drought, excessive rainfall and heat have already had detrimental impacts on agriculture in France. France in particular could see its corn production decrease by about 2 percent and wheat by 6 percent, even if warming is limited to +2C, which was the goal of the Paris Agreement.
➡️ Carte agrège différentes données comme la baisse des niveaux des rivières et lacs mais surtout état actuel nappes souterraines et humidité sols. pic.twitter.com/BgOvwL3Bit
— Météo-France (@meteofrance) May 19, 2022
The heat brings with it water usage restrictions, which further complicates things for farmers – the summer of 2022 saw water restrictions in place for almost all the country and in many areas restrictions continued into October as rain failed to come.
On top of losing crops, heat and drought can also fuel forest fires, particularly in southern France.
Warmer waters off the coast of France might sound appealing to swimmers looking to take a dip, but maybe not for those of us who love fruit de la mer.
In Normandy specifically, “cod stocks in the Celtic and Channel seas are considered to have collapsed even though fishing for this species has been virtually halted,” researchers explained to the French environmental news organisation Reporterre. Fish that are used to colder temperatures could see their numbers drop “drastically” by 2100. Meanwhile, warming waters could also give us less oyster production.
— Nantes Université (@NantesUniv) October 17, 2018
“Their metabolism speeds up and this continuous filtration effort takes a lot of energy. This, in turn, affects their growth. Their shells can become smaller, and their bodies become less fleshy,” explained Domitilia Matias, marine biologist at the Portuguese Institute for the Sea and the Atmosphere, to Euronews.
One creature that seems to enjoy the warm water is jellyfish, which is further bad news for swimmers.
Finally, in comparison to its European neighbours, France has a problem with air pollution.
In fact, it is believed to cause 40,000 premature deaths in France per year. This is mostly due to nitrogen dioxide, which is produced primarily by vehicles. The pollution levels for this gas are still considered excessive in large metropolitan areas, such as Paris, Lyon, Marseille-Aix, Toulouse and Grenoble.
Paris specifically has been singled out for its consistently high levels of the PM10 particle pollutant.
Breaking: Nitrogen dioxide pollution in European capitals has rebounded sharply as the COVID-19 restrictions are eased, with Paris facing the largest increase, and Budapest and Oslo exceeding their pre-crisis levels, when controlling for weather. pic.twitter.com/wmqz4wfRBc
— Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (@CREACleanAir) June 24, 2020
In addition to these areas that France will see impacted by climate change, Vimeux cautions that the most concerning will be regarding the increase of extreme weather events, such as drought, throughout France.
“The urgency for the France’s metropolitan territory is predominantly extreme weather events,” said Vimeux. She went on to explain that this raises the important question of “how we will adapt ourselves to diminish both the losses and damages from these extreme events.”