Protesters in France made headlines around the world in January as thousands gathered to bring their climate change concerns to government leaders. The protests helped bring attention to December’s petition to sue the French government for not doing enough to combat climate change. Called the country’s “most successful petition ever,” 2 million people signed on to protest France’s contributions to this growing problem.
With France’s next door neighbour, Germany, topping the list of green energy-producing countries, it’s easy to see why millions are calling for policy changes in the wake of the global repercussions of climate change.
France and Climate Change Policy
The protests in January came on the heels of December’s widespread protests against a proposed gasoline tax increase. Those protests, called the Yellow Vest Movement by some, grew violent and ultimately resulted in a suspension of the proposed fuel tax.
The gas tax increase was scheduled to start in January and would have equaled up to 25 cents a gallon. Protesters argued that the working class couldn’t afford an additional tax in a nation with some of the highest tax rates in Europe. The suspension is only set to last for six months, so it remains to be seen how it will affect France’s economy into the future.
Both sets of protests brought France into the spotlight, much as the country was a major focus in 2016 following the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which was held in Paris. In what became known as the Paris Accord, 195 countries acknowledged the impact of climate change and vowed to do their part in reducing carbon emissions. The ultimate goal of the Paris Agreement is to keep the global temperature rise less than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
France’s Alternative Energy Solutions
Despite January’s protests implying otherwise, France isn’t dead in the water where clean energy is concerned. In November 2018, President Emmanuel Macron announced widespread clean energy policies designed to address climate change concerns.
Macron promised to invest in more solar and wind energy while reducing the number of coal- and nuclear-powered energy production plants. There are only four coal-fired power plants remaining in France, and Macron declared that they would all be closed for good by 2022.
As for nuclear reactors, they will be phased out over time. According to Macron, nuclear energy production will account for only 50 percent of the country’s power by 2035, down from 75 percent. Further, France is poised to spend €5 billion a year on its new renewable energy plans. However, some of that money is supposed to have come from the suspended fuel tax.
Are Macron’s promises enough to help combat the effects of climate change throughout France? His announcement clearly fell short of expectations, if January’s protests are any indication.
The Effects of Climate Change in France
According to USC’s Keck School of Medicine, the period between 1983 and 2012 was the warmest in more than 1,400 years. Health risks increase as global temperatures rise, and environmental effects come into play as well.
Climate change can cause extreme heat events, poor air quality, and more frequent violent weather disasters. In France, there has been flooding that is directly linked to climate change. In 2016, the Seine River swelled over 6 meters above typical levels following heavy rains.
A century of climate change has also impacted the Mer de Glace, France’s largest glacier. Descending from Mont Blanc Massif, the glacier and its surrounding landscape have changed significantly over the last 100 years. Scientists believe climate change is the direct cause.
Climate change may also be impacting the average temperatures in France. According to the Centre for Climate Adaptation, the average annual temperature in mainland France rose by 0.95 degrees Celsius during the 20th century. That’s about 30 percent higher than the global average.
Increased ultraviolet (UV) exposure goes hand-in-hand with rising temperatures. As UV rays can significantly damage the retina, it is recommended that those in France wear sunglasses or UV-blocking contact lenses when outdoors during the day, even on cloudy days.
France’s Sustainable Future
To prepare for COP 21, scientists looked at what might be in store for France if global climate change continues at the same rate. Scientists warn that French citizens will need to think about water use and agriculture and make significant changes into the future.
France may experience significant heat waves between the years 2021 and 2050, studies claim, with the south west part of the country seeing the brunt of the hot weather. Winters will become warmer, and the drier Mediterranean landscape is projected to spread further north. Coastal erosion and rising sea levels are also expected thanks to climate change.
There’s no question that things need to change. Last summer’s relentless heat wave proved that beyond any reasonable doubt. But the changes brought on by global warming may not become as devastating as was predicted in 2016, as long as the country’s sustainable energy goals are met.