Greening France

Drivers complain that Paris these days is a vast construction site. Streets are being ripped up to make way for tramways, electric car charging posts, and ever more bike lanes and docking stations. The first major city to have put in a free bike-sharing system, back in 2007, Paris has now moved to phase two with more and lighter bikes, a docking system that allows overflow and the introduction of shared electric bikes. 

After signing the Paris Climate Agreement, the country too is shifting into action. It put the Energy Transition for Green Growth Act into effect in 2016, which aims to lower non-renewable energy consumption by 50% by 2050 (from 2012 levels) and increase the share of renewable energy sources to 32%. The new law sets up frameworks for developing renewables and lowering carbon emissions and air pollution. It has also earmarked €750 million for clean energy, green technology, and efforts to reduce airborne agricultural pollution.

The OECD’s Environmental Performance Review of France from 2016 singles out specific fields where concrete progress has been made, including the reduction of air pollution and the inclusion of a carbon factor in the taxation of fossil fuels. France has made some modest progress in taking measures to lower greenhouse gas emissions, with a 25% increase in harvested wind and solar power: renewable energy currently accounts for the equivalent output of six nuclear reactors, in a country where nuclear energy is the main generator of electricity. To fight against air pollution in the city of Paris, subsidies have been put in place to help people buy electric bikes and vehicles. There is an ongoing plan to expand cycle lanes and encourage the use of public transport. More than 100,000 electric vehicles (EV) are now in circulation, serviced by an EV recharging network of 15,000 stations.

But France faces many challenges. It needs to restrict land-take, and take action against the pollution of groundwater with nitrates and pesticides, since France is one of the world’s biggest consumers of plant protection products. Improving air quality is another priority, particularly at a time when people living in the greater Paris area are exposed to levels of fine particulates that exceed regulatory limits and have damaging effects on both the environment and human health. The country also needs to improve its protection of land and marine ecosystems to safeguard the country’s extraordinary biodiversity.

The multi-layered institutional mosaic of France’s regional administration– known by the French as a millefeuille after a layered pastry–hampers many initiatives, and some of the plans that have been introduced are not restrictive enough or are based on loosely defined forms of governance. The OECD review stresses that the recent reforms to the country’s regional organisation is a step in the right direction.

France takes climate change and green policies seriously, but as a major industrial economy, the transition is a long work in progress. Which means those city constructions sites will be around for a while, even if all in a good cause.

References and links

OECD (2016), OECD Environmental Performance Reviews: France 2016, OECD Publishing, Paris.

Read the EU Environmental Implementation Review Country Report – FRANCE at

“Bilan de l’application de la loi de transition énergétique pour la croissance verte et stratégies d’application” at

©OECD Observer No 312 Q4 December 2017

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