Environment in France
 Misc. facts & figures   French policies and structures
  • Europe : for environment as well as for most policies, France must follow European regulation and European countries tend to get closer and closer. The major specificities are :

    • France is very indisciplined and has been condemned several times to heavy fines by the European Court of Justice for not following Environmental European "directives" (laws), for instance regarding the protection of migratory birds (not to alienate hunters), of fishing resources (not to alienate fishermen), nitrogen in water (not alienate Breton farmers) etc...

    • nuclear : France has a very strong and long - established nuclear policy when for instance Germany has banned nuclear power-plants

  • The Kyoto protocol : France discharges 3 times less CO2 per inhabitant than the USA : 8 tons per inhabitant per year compared to 24 (see detailed figures) due to :
    • the importance (almost 80%) of nuclear power plants in the production of electricity
    • the much lower gas consomption of European cars
    • much less waste of energy in housing (heating, air-conditioning, etc...)
    • much better systems of public transport : fast trains, metro, street cars.
    • more energy-efficient urban development (less urban sprawl)

The French pride themselves on having housed in December 2015 the international conference on climate (COP21), which was a (small) step toward a limitation of global warming.

  • In comparison to the USA, France ranks rather favorably on many environmental indexes (even if some US states like California have very advanced policies). Like most European countries, France ranks high for environmental policies. According to a ranking by Yale and Columbia (Source : Le Monde May 30, 2010), France ranks #7 (the first of G20 countries) when the US ranks only #61. Other countries are Iceland #1, Switzerland #2, UK #14, Germany #17, Japan #20, etc... Major differences (measured as the % reached of internationnally agreed targets) concern "vitality of ecosystems" (France 65,7, US 38,7) and "policy toward climate change" (France 56,4, US 29,4). See more detailed figures.

  • Politics : several political parties campaign at a national level on environmental issues. They are weak and divided and the three most significant did not represent more than 3 or 4 % of the vote altogether at the national level (but more at the local level) : the Green (les Verts) generally in association with the Socialist Party, Cap 21 ( less politically oriented) and Jose Bové (associated with extreme Left-wing). However in the 2009 European Elections, they did very well : Green (Europe Ecologie) : 16,3% and Alliance Ecologique 3,63% (the other parties : Right (UMP) 27,8%, Left (PS) 16,48%, Center (Modem) 8,4%). In 2012, after Hollande was elected president, their party (renamed Europe Ecologie-Les Verts EELV) obtained three ministerial positions in the cabinet.

  • Taxes (in France, everything starts and ends with taxes) : there is a strong trend toward generalizing specific taxes to finance the elimination of potentially polluting products. They already exist for cars (bonus/malus : a premium or a tax depending on the energy efficiency, up to several thousand euros), on packaging, on electronic devices, on batteries, etc... There is even a tax on paper plates and plastic glasses ("picnic tax") which is currently considered and, as I think no food or drink deserves that, I fully support it!

  • Good news ! The French forest is healthy. It is the largest in Europe and it surface has doubled since the 1850s ; today, it represents around 30% of the national territory. In Julius Caesar's days, it represented 75% of the country and the Romans called it Gaulle chevelue (i.e. "hairy Gaul") !

DID YOU KNOW THAT …. ? When you look at French houses, you notice that houses in wood are practically non existant. Why is that, when France has one of the biggest forest resources in Europe ? The reason is that, in France contrary to the US, houses are built to last, to be used by future generations.They are built with stone or, more frequently, with concrete and you rarely see a house being destroyed to build a new one bigger : people prefer to expand on an existing one.

  • Parks : France has 10 national parks (Calanques near Marseille, Cévennes in Central mountains, Ecrins-the most visited one-, Vanoise and Mercantour in the Alps, Guadeloupe, Guyane and Reunion in overseas territories, Port-Cros on the Mediterranean sea, Pyrénées at the Spanish border) and 50 regional parks, covering altogether 15% of the country, quite a sizeable proportion. By the same token, the "Conservatoire du Littoral", a public body (the French equivalent of the British National Trust), purchases every year between 10,000 and 25,000 acres along the coast to prevent it from being developed and owns now more than 1,200 km of coast line and 300,000 acres, very significant figures. On a smaller scale, a private association (ASPAS) buys land to maintain it absolutely unspoiled for the protection of wild animals (ASPAS is the French parner of the European program Rewilding Europe whose objective is to re-open to wilderness 2 millions acres as of 2020). More about French geography

  • The Grenelle de l'Environnement : in October 2007, the then-newly elected president Sarkozy organized large meetings to include effective changes in the policy of his administration regarding environmental concerns, following his campaign commitment (very popular environmental activist Nicolas Hulot had threated to run for President if the candidates did not commit to do anything significant in the field of environment). Key decisions include building additional 2,000 km of high speed rail network, four times more mass transit lines, suspending GM commercial crops, investing a billion euros in new energy sources, new generation engines and biodiversity (including a "green network" linking natural areas), tax credits for thermal renovation, new standards of energy efficiency in housing, a "green disk" for cars (a bonus for energy efficient cars and tax for others), etc... In Dec.2015, France housed the COP21, a meeting where countries tried to agree on decisions to slow the climate change and which ended with the Paris Agreement, unfortunately denounced by the US government in June 2017.

  • Environment and hunting : Hunting is a big issue in France. The number of hunters is close to 2 million and they are very attached to the right to hunt. This goes back to the French Revolution which abolished the exclusive right of nobility to hunt and now hunters can hunt on any private property. They even have their own political party. Ecologist movements of course support the European restriction to hunting endangered species and hunting migrating birds on their way back to Europe. But the European regulation is constantly challenged by French hunters who consider the ecologists their worst enemies. In Septembre 2018, Nicolas Hulot, the Minister of Environment and the most popular public figure in France resigned from the Government after a conflict with the hunters in which he considered the government had caved in.

  • Dangerous wild species have practically disappeared from Europe and particularly from France. The only left are a handful of big bears in the Pyrenees mountains, a few bobcats in the Vosges mountains and more and more wolves recolonizing the whole country after having been protected in the Alps. The only dangerous local snake is the viper, present everywhere, whose bite can be lethal but which normally avoids humans. On the other hand a few foreign species, introduced by mistake or by stupidity, have had a spectacular development like the American crayfish which has almost wiped out the poor national crayfish.

  • When the "precautionary principle" hits France's energy future : the shale gas resource : In Europe, it seems established that France has the second most important resources of shale gas after Poland (more than Qatar!). Whatever the estimation, enough for many years or decades. In July 2012, the Minister of Environment (an Ecologist activist) decided that all the exploration permits (64 in all) which had been attributed would be void for environmental reasons. When some protested, the President answered that it would be reconsidered when a new technique of extraction, other than hydraulic fracturing, is discovered (but no announcement of a research program !). On a general basis, the "precautionary principle" was introduced in the French Constitution in 2005 : if it had been before, there would probably be in France no electric lamps, no cars, no planes, no aspirin, etc… but maybe only some ecologists. Other examples of the insanity of the "precautionary principle" include the general prohibition of GMO, the decision to reduce drastically the production of electricity from nuclear power plants and many others.

Biodiversity : a sad story ...   Main environmental issues

In Europe, there is no big game, like in the other continents : Europe is too dense, too urbanized and its forests have been cleared for too many centuries. But in the French Pyrénées, there is a specific and unique race of ursus arctos with a handful of survivors (less than ten). Almost all of them being male, a few female bears from Slovenia have been introduced, the two species being close. Each of the remaining bears is carefully followed by the environmental administration, so that the species can survive. Cannelle was the very last female. She was killed in November 2004 by a stupid hunter (who was hunting boars...) but her puppy Cannellito, the last of the species, survived and is still alive. Everybody hopes that he will make enough babies with the charming Slovenian bears, so that something of the Pyrenean Bears can survive.

The stupid hunter was sentenced to a heavy fine in 2010 but that will not contribute to restore a little bit of biodiversity in the Pyrenean mountains... Read more about hunting in France.

Cannelle (now naturalized in the museum of Toulouse) (credit)

Heavy clouds on biodiversity in France :

Biodiversity is under serious threat in France, as in the rest of the world and the numbers are appalling (Source : UICN & Museum, 2018). Among the thousands of existing species, 23% are at risk to disappear like dinosaurs did : 32% of birds, 23% of amphibians, 14% of mammals, 22% of river fishes, 8% of the flore (this numbers not including overseas territories, where they are even worse).
Among the disappearing species, you find the Pyrenean bear, the Giant Hamster in Alsace, the Hermann tortoise on the Riviera, the Lynx in Vosges Mountains, and thousands of others. Insects (and particularly bees and butterflies) are exterminated by pesticides (60% or more).

On the other hand, many not indigenous species colonize the country, brought by the development of international transport or by the taste for exotic pets. Among them, the Asian hornet (Vespa velutina) which now occupies 95% of the country and feeds on the remaining local bees, the American crayfish (Prochambarus clarkii) which devastates the population of local crayfish, Asian worm (Bipalium kewense) which kills all the innocent French worms it can meet in the earth or the Asian algae (Caulerpia taxifolia) which modifies for the worst the environment of Mediterranean sea-shores.








Many organizations address environmental issues : associations and political parties.

  • Politics : should environmental concerns be defended by specific political parties ? After years of debate, the answer was : yes. Many parties were founded and failed, one after another. The only successful attempt so far is the Green ecologist party called EELV (Europe Ecologie-Les Verts) for whom ecology can only be on the Left Wing side. Through a close alliance with the Socialist Party, EELV obtained enough deputies and senators to form sizeable parliamentary groups and several important positions for their members in the Cabinet. But at the end of the mandate, most of them had left the party and the government.
  • Main "battles"
    • ecologist movements are against the nuclear policy and demand the closing of nuclear plants but it is practically impossible (among developed counties, France has the highest rate of electricity provided by nuclear plants : around 75% and the government has promised to reduce it to 50% by 2030).
    • each major project raises a strong and organized opposition by environmental activists ; one the most significant examples is a new international airport in the West of France (Notre Dame des Landes) : this forty-year old project, which received all required legal green light, was taken to court several times by its opponents and won all its cases, but it has been occupied for the past three or four years by hundreds of opponents, although was approved by a popular referendum organized by the government in the whole region and won it by 55% ! The government, fearing a blood bath, hesitated to expel the activists from the site so the construction work could start and the project was finally abandonned in January 2018.
    • in 2018-2019, the Yellow Vests movement was provoked by a new tax on gas (Carbon Tax) established in the framework of the policy to slow the evolution of the climate change.
    • More to come
DID YOU KNOW THAT ....? Environment is one of the causes of anti-Americanism in Europe in general and in France in particular. The French were very shocked when the USA refused to sign the Kyoto agreement and when President Trump was elected and declared in June 2017 that the USA would not respect their commitment with the Paris agreement. The Americans are considered energy wasters who damage the Earth with their energy-inefficient cars, the absence of efficient public transport in cities and the absence of a real passenger train network, the intensive use of coal, the waste of energy in houses , etc... The French do that as well, but on a much smaller scale. By the same token, the French expected that the Copenhagen Conference on Climate (Dec.2009) would bring significant commitments of the major "carbon polluters" (China, USA, India). They were disappointed when it failed and blame it on the USA. The decisions of President Trump in the field of environment raised unanimous criticisms.

To related pages : geographical facts on France, politics, etc....

To table of contents

To top of the page 

Back to home page

Harriet Welty Rochefort writes articles and books about France and the French. Order her books :

  • "Joie de Vivre", Secrets of Wining, Dining and Romancing like the French, St.Martin's Press, New York, 2012
  • "French Toast, An American in Paris Celebrates The Maddening Mysteries of the French", St.Martin's Press, New York, 1999
  • "French Fried, The Culinary Capers of An American in Paris", St.Martin's Press, New York, 2001

More on Harriet's books (excerpts, upcoming events, testimonials, etc..)

To email me

 If you like this site, please bookmark it or create a link!