Floods, shellfish and wine: 7 ways that the climate crisis is impacting France

The ongoing climate crisis naturally affects the whole planet, but there are some particular risks in France. From declining grain supplies to unreliable wine harvests, coastal flooding to heatwave deaths, shellfish shortages to wildfires - here are 7 of effects already being felt.

Floods, shellfish and wine: 7 ways that the climate crisis is impacting France
Droughts are now common in France. Photo by LOIC VENANCE / AFP

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: 

Eroding coastlines

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). 

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.

READ MORE: MAP: The French towns at urgent risk from coastal erosion

Wine production 

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.

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.

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.

READ MORE: The French Alps resorts facing a future with no snow

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.

READ MORE: How France plans to ‘heatwave proof’ its cities

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.

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.

READ MORE: ‘No region has been spared’: Why the dry weather in France is causing concern

Seafood shortages

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.

“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. 

Air pollution

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

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.”

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Free worms: How to start composting in France

Wondering how you can start composting in France? Here is what you need to know about the environmentally-friendly way of getting rid of your food waste.

Free worms: How to start composting in France

Composting is about to get a lot more accessible in France, as local authorities will be required to offer households means of sorting biodegradable waste at source.

Starting in January 2024, all local authorities across the country will need to give households a way to compost – whether that be via separate bins for collection, individual or collective composting.

READ MORE: All French households will have to be offered composting bin

But many local authorities already do this, and even if they don’t there’s no need to wait until January 2024 to recycle your kitchen scraps, old flowers and other bio-waste.

Public composting sites

If you’re looking for a shared or public composting site, the first step you can take is to look at the interactive map created by Zero Waste France. You can find it HERE, where you can simply put in your address to see what options are available close to you.

Another option would be to look at the website for your local Mairie (Town Hall) to search for the nearest “composteur de quartier” (neighbourhood composting bin). For those living in the Greater Lyon area, you can consult the interactive map and address log of shared composting bins HERE

In Paris, those looking to compost can use the city’s Town Hall website to see the composting locations listed out by arrondissement and address. If you scroll to the middle of the page then click on your arrondissement number, you will get a list of nearby options.

A screenshot of the dropdown list of composting options in Paris

You will also need to check 

For those living in cities, you might consider joining a community garden if you are looking to use your composting to grow fruits and vegetables, or if you are simply looking for an alternative place to get rid of your compost. To join a community garden (jardin partagé) you must contact the association managing it. In larger cities, like Paris, there might be a waitlist. You can find more information HERE.

Compost individually

It’s easy to get a compost bin for your kitchen to collect your food and biodegradable waste together, but if you actually want to create compost that will go straight onto your garden then you will probably need the help of some worms.

Depending on where you live in France, you might be eligible for a free or reduced price individual worm composting bin. For those living in Paris, you can get a free worm composting bin during one of the city’s distribution campaigns, which are usually announced on the Town Hall’s website. You will also need to attend a short, 45-minute training session to learn how to use the worm composting bin.  

In other parts of France, like the Aix-Marseille-Provence metropolitan area you can order a €10 wooden composter or an individual worm composter on the local authority’s website, found HERE.

If you live in the Greater Lyon area, you can apply for your local town hall to send you composting materials for free by going on THIS website and by providing documents, such as a piece of identification, proof of address, and a photo of your garden.

Many local authorities have similar schemes, so check the situation on a lombricomposteur (worm-composter) with your local mairie.

Where can I get compost for my garden?

If you are looking to get compost, the first place you might consider would be your local landfill or waste disposal centre (déchetterie). Some communes will give away free bags of compost, and others have deals set up where you can bring in your own biodegradable items in exchange for getting a bag of compost.

What are you allowed to compost in France? 

While local authorities might have differing recommendations, on a general level it is recommended that you compost: Kitchen waste – peelings, coffee grounds, paper filters, vegetable tops, and spoiled fruits and vegetables; Garden waste – grass clippings, leaves, and dead flowers; and some household waste – house plants, tissues, paper towels, newspaper, wood ashes, and sawdust.

There are also some things that you might be able to compost, but you should take some additional steps, like hard waste that cannot degrade easily (cabbage cores, bones, branches, fruit pits, egg shells), which should be crushed down beforehand. 

Some localities have specific rules regarding composting meat. In Paris, residents are advised against composting meat and fish, as they can attract rodents.

You should always avoid composting any non-biodegradable synthetic products, like glass, metals, plastics, or synthetic cleaner bags. Many types of diapers (nappies) are not biodegradable, so consider this before attempting to compost them. Any type of wood that has been painted or chemically treated should not be composted, and no chemical products (such as oil) should be composted.

If you are using a vermicomposter (worm composter) should also avoid putting in citrus fruits, garlic and onions.

As for the city of Paris, local authorities recommend not composting dairy products (especially cheese), bread, and meat. 

Why should I consider composting?

There are many benefits to composting. As an individual, composting might save you money by allowing you to avoid buying synthetic fertilisers.

Recycling organic waste also helps to limit pollution. When biodegradable waste is collected with other types of waste and put into landfills, it produces toxic emissions. Composting helps to reduce the toxic gases that are sent into the atmosphere, and in turn reduces pollution.

It also makes us less dependent on landfills and helps to make soil richer and healthier, which aids in water retention. 

Helpful vocabulary

To compost – Composter

A communal composting bin – un composteur collectif

Worm composter or vermicomposter – lombricomposteur

Landfill/ Waste disposal centre – Déchetterie