the LARGEST among the nations of Western Europe, France boasts a long history of world leadership in the arts, sciences, and industrialization. As the first decade of the 21st century nears its end, France remains an influential nation with a Gross Domestic Product of $2,124 billion, and the sixth largest economy in the world. The nation's moderate climate and its ample agricultural land have made it the European Union's largest agricultural producer, ranking second only to the United States in the world market. Its varied coastlines, mountain ranges, vineyards, and cities rich in culture and tradition make France one of the most popular tourist sites in the world. Like other wealthy Western nations, France has been confronted with the problems attending urbanization, industrialization, and the loss of open space. In 1971, France created the Ministry of the Environment to develop solutions to these problems on a national level; later, the country became a signatory to the Kyoto Protocol and to two-dozen other international efforts to address the problems on regional and world levels.
Global warming is of particular concern to France because temperatures have increased since 1950 in France at nearly twice the average rate. The French remember summer 2003 and the more than 15,000 deaths in their country, and environmentalists have warned that future summers could be much hotter. The nation's extensive coastline also renders it particularly vulnerable to the changes in sea streams that accompany global warming. More than a fifth of the French coast already shows signs of erosion. The Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) set up by the World Meteorological Organization and the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) to assess factors connected to climate change, estimates that sea levels by 2100 could rise at a rate three times that of the 20th century. The government has built artificial reefs in an effort to contain erosion, but experts hold little hope that such measures can stem the damage over the long term.
Increases in water temperature and deforestation are among the consequences of climate changes already in progress. These changes have led to the extinction of some species of fish and the spread of the Asian Hornet. The latter, which may have arrived in France from the Far East via a shipment of Chinese pottery in 2004, pose a major threat to France's beekeepers. Experts report that it takes only a few of the hornets to destroy a nest of 30,000 bees.
Of even greater concern are the effects upon France's renowned wine industry, which contributes $13 billion to the nation's economy and is intricately linked to French culture. The immediate effects of higher temperatures were beneficial, as warming produced wines with higher sugar and alcohol levels and lower acidity. However, droughts have plagued Provence and other areas of southern France, and even the northernmost areas of Alsace and Champagne have experienced harvest seasons that have moved from the traditional October harvests to as early as August. Bernard Seguin, a French climatologist, compared a one degree increase in temperature in a vineyard to moving the vineyard 124 mi. (200 km.) south. Scientists point out that the highly detailed records main tained on wine grapes over generations along with the grapes' unusual sensitivity to climate changes make them a valuable tool for studying effects of the changes on the rest of the ecosystem.
While scientists debate the theories, France has taken practical action, including making environmental protection a part of its Constitution and formulating a Climate Plan, begun in 2004, and updated annually, that targets every area of French life that can help reach the national goal of saving 54 million tons of CO2 by 2010. Increasing public awareness of the problems and the individual role in the solution has been an important component of the plan. An 80 percent public awareness of global warming in France suggests that the goal of informing the public has been achieved. France also made an early commitment to protecting open spaces. Nearly 30 percent of France's land area today consists of forests and woodlands. Reforestation has become a common strategy to decrease CO2 emissions, but the French government has been subsidizing reforestation since 1947, and it earmarked tens of millions of euros to aid communities and individuals in renewing privately-owned forests 2000-10.
Perhaps the most dramatic and consequential measure France has taken to deal with the problems of global warming is to rely on nuclear power as its chief source of electricity. Energy production by wind power and biofuel have increased in France, but it is the 80 percent of its energy needs being met by nuclear power that gives France the cleanest air among industrialized nations. The energy produced by the nuclear plants is also inexpensive, making it an ideal export to other European Union (EU) nations such as Germany, Italy, and England. The 58 nuclear power plants in a nation roughly the size of Texas also account for France's 40 percent reduction in CO2 emissions and 70 percent reduction of nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide emissions. France's emissions of greenhouse gases are the lowest among the EU powers, and they are still declining.
Among the major Western European nations, France is closest to fulfilling is Kyoto Protocol responsibilities. President Nicolas Sarkozy, who was elected in May 2007, promised tax reforms that include a new tax on CO2 emissions and a tax on goods imported from countries that have not signed the Kyoto Protocol. France seems positioned not only to hit its own targets in the world response to global warming, but also to influence nations that have elected not to comply.
SEE ALSO: European Union; Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC); Kyoto Protocol; Nuclear Power.
BIBLIOGRAPHY. Steve Kroft, "France: Vive Les Nukes," 60 Minutes (April 8, 2007); Molly Moore, "In Northern France, Warming Presses Fall Grape Harvest Into Summertime," Washington Post (September 2, 2007); World Bank, "France," Little Green Book, www.worldbank.org (cited October 2007); Yale University, "Pilot 2006 Environmental Performance Index," www.yale.edu (cited October 2007).
Wylene Rholetter Auburn University
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