France

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France

Puy Pariou et puy de Dôme au fond – France © Yann Arthus-Bertrand

France is the European Union’s fifth-largest country by land area. It is also the world’s second-largest maritime power by virtue of its Overseas Departments and Territories stretching over 10 million km² throughout the Atlantic, Pacific, Indian, and Southern Oceans as well as the Mediterranean and North Seas. In 2005, an Environment Charter was annexed to the Constitution.

Issues

Energy: next to the United States, France is the world’s second-largest producer of nuclear energy, with 58 of the planet’s 442 reactors. Two new EPR reactors are slated for construction in spite of concerns voiced by environmental groups. The La Hague nuclear fuel reprocessing plant treats spent fuel from nuclear plants in France and other countries. Hydroelectricity accounts for 12% of domestic electrical production, followed by biomass fuels (5%), biofuels, and wind power. Geothermal energy is slowing developing; however in Guadeloupe, the Bouillante Geothermal Plant will supply 10% of the island’s electricity production.

Protected areas: France is a major importer of tropical wood, and has the EU’s third largest forest cover, in constant expansion since 1945 owing to rural exodus. The Natura 2000 network covers 12% of mainland France, yet the country has been sanctioned three times by the European Court of Justice for delays in implementing the network. According to the latest official assessment, over 60% of French habitats protected by Natura 2000 are considered in an inadequate or poor state of conservation. In French Guiana, a new national park was created in 2007, covering 40% of this overseas department which is 96% under forest cover. Overseas territory New Caledonia has the world’s second-largest coral reef.

Transport: since highways are saturated, particularly due to commercial transport, planned freight developments will make increasing use of railways (Lyon-Turin) and waterways (future Seine-Nord Europe canal).

Pollution: France faces fines from the European Commission over nitrate water pollution in Brittany. Several major French rivers are contaminated with PCBs to such an extent that human consumption of fish from a sizeable section of the Rhone was banned in 2007.

Waste: Corsica was the first French region where supermarkets stopped distributing plastic bags; prior to that, 100 million/year were handed out.

Organic food: organic business is rapidly gaining ground (+24% in 2007). However organic farming only accounts for 2% of cultivated land.

Players

Most French environmental groups are members of Alliance pour la planète. Some notable examples are France Nature Environnement (itself a federation of 3,000 groups), the WWF, Greenpeace France, theSortir dunucléaire French antinuclear coalition, Nicolas Hulot’s foundation and GoodPlanet. During the last presidential elections, preliminary polls assigned prominent environmentalist Nicolas Hulot up to 12% of the vote before his decision to withdraw from the running. The new president, Nicolas Sarkozy, organised Grenelle de l’environnement, a round table with environmental groups; however it proved disappointing to most participants.

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