Going Green: France

Wind Turbines in Somme, Picardie, France.
Photo: Flickr.com/Charles D P Miller

After the catastrophic consequences of Hurricane Sandy in October, the US and the world at large had to question themselves about climate change, the human involvement in it, and what is done at a political level to improve the situation and respond to public concerns.

Different studies have been conducted in France about this issue. They show the French are more and more concerned about environmental issues, which is their second biggest concern after unemployment, according to a study published by the Minister of a Sustainable Development. They worry most about natural environment pollution and natural disasters.

Moreover, 80% think the global warming is scientifically proven and 75% are convinced the degradation of the environment is due to human intervention.

French are more aware and informed on these problems compared to eight years ago. 51% of the population know the concept of a sustainable development in 2011, compared to 30% in 2004, according to the study the “French and the Environment” conducted by ADEME, a French environmental organization.

But 87% of the people asked were holding middle management seat. Consequently, there is still a large need for public information, especially in the lower classes of the population. In fact, there is also a demand for it since 45% of 15-24 year olds think we do not talk enough about global warming. That said, 61% of the over 35 years old people think one speaks too much about it, according to another ADEME study.

With the increase in energy prices, people are even more cautious in their use of energy and even ready to spend money in construction to improve the energy efficiency of their homes. But they are often worried about the profitability of the investment and the quality warranty. That is why the ADEME implemented the label “Reconnu Grenelle Environnement” in 2011, in partnership with the trade association of the building industry and the government.

More generally, a progressive change in behavior is observable, notably with the generalization of waste sorting in the communes – the lowest French administration division. French people are increasingly concerned with the environment, in particular with renewable energy issues. For example, most of them try to use environmentally friendly products.

Renewable Energy

Largely due to newspaper coverage of renewable energy and of the necessity of preserving natural resources, the French public is more and more in favor of their development (96%).

82% of people would accept to have solar panels on their roof, and 94% would agree to have them on public buildings. 60% would accept the construction of wind turbines within 1 kilometer of their houses. And above this, there is an expectation of state support for these developments, since 75% of French think the development of renewable energy should be financed with public funds.

This is important along with a lowering of market prices because 54% think the reduction of the equipment cost would produce incentive for their expansion. 34% said the incentive came from a financial support and 37% from the rising energy prices.

The public is well informed on these matters, as 99% of the population knows about solar and wind energies, while 82% heard have about the biomass. But that is not the case for everything.

Environmentally Friendly Products

There is a demand for the development of environmentally friendly products: 52% of the persons polled declared they wanted a wider choice of products. But there is also a lack of information given to the public and many would like more understandable information in order to choose their products. 49% would like to locate them more easily in the shelf. Indeed, only 30% estimated that the information was presented clearly.

It can be difficult to make the difference between natural, biological, ecological, green products, or environmentally friendly products. Fortunately, in the European Union the ECOLABEL does exist. It guarantees quality and a reduced impact on the environment all throughout the product’s life cycle. However there are only 49 categories of products and services labeled this way today. The label does not cover food or medical products, for example.

Sources of Concern

People are becoming more and more concerned about the environment. 83% of the French declared being anxious about the ecological threats.

In a survey conducted by the CREDOC – a research center – people had to rank their environmental preoccupations. Global warming is no longer the first preoccupation of French; it has been replaced by air pollution. Natural disasters rose in the list, but this can be explained by the devastating storms in recent years.

The same survey revealed that the French would like the state to prioritize primarily the fight against water pollution (34%), global warming (30%), and the reduction of air pollution (29%) in order to protect the environment.

Concerning government action, there are legal interventions like fiscal incitement to use clean fuels. Thus in France, the LPG (liquefied petroleum gas) and NGV (natural gas vehicle) benefit from a VAT (value added tax) deduction, even if the vehicle does not. This is more favorable than gasoline, which is never deductible. The diesel fuel deduction rate is only 80% for the use of a vehicle designed for the transport of individuals.

However general policies are more difficult to conceive, as with the Europe-Ecologie-Les-Verts (France’s Green Party) disapproved of the government reform on competitiveness demonstrated this month. Impulses generally come from the international or European level. For instance, France ratified the Convention of the United Nations on climate change and is part of the Kyoto protocol, which aims for a reduction of global greenhouses gas emissions.

The mentality about the environment slowly evolves, as less people (46%) think the aim of environmental preservation is incompatible with a sustainable economy (4 points less compared to 1992). And only 44% think institutions exaggerate the risks.

If you are interested in the US perspective on these issues, click here.

Comments

  1. Hi Ms. Duponteil,
    I was wondering what your source was for the statistic.. (And only 44% think institutions exaggerate the risks.) I can’t seem to find that number in either the ADEME study, or the CREDOC report. Thanks!

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