Protection of biodiversity in France dates back to 1960, when national parks were created, giving the first legal framework for protecting lands that were deemed of cultural and natural importance. Since then, France has acted for the preservation of biodiversity through developing national action plans (with the first ones for the conservation and restoration of most endangered species, Plans de restauration nationaux, introduced in 1996) and laws (notably the Grenelle Acts of 2007 and 2010). Most recently, in 2018, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe and Nicolas Hulot, then Minister of the Ecological Transition, presented 90 actions to tackle the accelerated disappearance of species and natural spaces due to human activities. Although the government reports that 90% of the measures are underway, an assessment by a group of NGOs in 2019 found that only a small part had been ‘satisfactorily’ implemented.
French natural environments are extremely rich and diverse, with a range of geographic and bioclimatic territories providing many ecological services. France harbours four of the five main biogeographical zones of Western Europe: Atlantic, Continental, Mediterranean and Alpine. This places France as the most diversified country in the European Union, ahead of Spain and Italy. The country contains a vast area of agricultural land (e.g. Champagne), massifs (e.g. the Pyreneans and the Alps), coasts (e.g. Côte d’Azur), forests (e.g. Landes), humid areas (e.g. the Camargue), as well as vast oversea territories and waters (e.g. French Guyana and New Caledonia). Overall, land use in France seems relatively stable. Today, around 29.5% of land areas and 23.5% of waters are protected, and the government plans to increase the share of total protected territory to 30% before 2022.
The biogeographical diversity of France entails equally great biodiversity. France is home to an estimated 10% of global biodiversity and 35% of European biodiversity, with some of the largest populations of amphibian species. Like in many other countries, however, many French natural environments are under serious threat, with an estimated 26% of species considered endangered or extinct. Various types of water, soil, and air pollution as well as the over exploitation of natural resources, in particular marine resources, exert strong pressures on natural environments and species populating them.
Primary causes of biodiversity loss also include land artificialisation and intensive farming, which frequently lead to fragmentation and destruction of natural habitats. Farmland covers 52.41% of France’s mainland area and agriculture is one of France’s highest emitting sectors, with 76657.3582 Gg CO2eq (SAR5) emissions in 2017. Agriculture furthermore relies intensively on phytosanitary products, such as glyphosates, which are increasingly recognised as harmful to biodiversity. For example, populations of common birds, such as swallows, have been greatly reduced in mainland France (-22% between 1989 and 2017), largely as a result of pesticide use. Although the utilisation of the most dangerous of products has decreased, the total amount of pesticide use has in fact increased by 25% in the past decade. Compared to 2008 levels, the government aims to reduce pesticide use by 50% by 2025 – a deferral from the initial aim of 2019.
A large share of French biodiversity lies in its overseas territories. With the second largest maritime domain in the world, French overseas territories accommodate 86% of France’s endemic species, which do not live anywhere else on the planet. Of the country’s endangered species, 39% are found in the overseas islands. In particular, the French Southern and Antarctic Lands, located in the southern hemisphere, have exceptional terrestrial and marine ecosystems and are home to animal and plant species that are adapted to extreme climates, but highly sensitive to climate change (mostly change in temperature and rainfall conditions). Another highly endangered type of ecosystem in French territories is coral reefs. France is the only country in the world to have coral reefs in three oceans, and 10% of the world’s coral reefs are located in waters under French jurisdiction of eleven overseas territories. In 2017, 29% of the sites monitored overseas showed a loss of living coral surface.
Rating: ** Standing Still
France is taking steps in the right direction to protect biodiversity, but the development is too slow. France carries a great responsibility to preserve natural and biodiversity heritage in Europe and in the world. It must do more to reduce the use of pesticides and to mitigate the effects of climate change on species.
Write to the Minister of Agriculture, Mr. Didier Guillaume:
Dear Mr. Minister,
Climate Scorecard is pleased that France is taking the threat of biodiversity loss seriously and implementing the National Plan on Biodiversity. However, as we observe the International Day for Biological Diversity, we are nonetheless concerned about the continuing threat to various animal and plant species posed by climate change and the use of phytosanitary products in agriculture. In France, an estimated 26% of natural species are currently endangered. We call on you to urgently step up your efforts to protect biodiversity – efforts in which curbing the use of pesticides and herbicides in agriculture is of key importance. With a worldwide geographical reach through its overseas territories, France is uniquely positioned to set a global example and must therefore take leadership on the matter.
With our respectful and best regards,
Send Action Alert Message to:
Mr. Didier Guillaume
This Post was submitted by Climate Scorecard France Country Manager Anna Savolainen
Image Attribution: bebopeloula (Flickr) (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)