Thanks to its geographical location and high level of economic development, France is by some measure less impacted by climate change than many other parts of the world. France has, however, a range of regions and populations at risk of suffering disproportionately from the changing climate. Many parts of French territories are poised to experience increasingly frequent heat waves, floods, forest fires, and droughts, combined with the globally rising sea levels and acidification of oceans. As in most countries, the parts of the population that are most at risk include many groups that are already in a vulnerable position.
Some 14.2% of the French population, around 8.9 million people, live under the poverty level at less than €1,015 monthly (2015). Poverty is prevalent in the regions of Nord-Pas-de-Calais, Languedoc-Roussillon, Corsica, and Provence. The poor, who have the least resources to adapt, are also overexposed to environmental disasters, such as floods and heatwaves. They often live in buildings of worse construction quality, making them more vulnerable to extreme weather events. In cities, which accommodate 65% of the poor population, poor living conditions will be particularly arduous, as cities experience generally higher temperatures and poorer air quality than average. Thus, poor people living in inadequately air-conditioned homes during episodes of prolonged heat or in highly polluted urban areas experience a higher risk of developing chronic and respiratory diseases. Immigrants are particularly susceptible, with nearly 40% of immigrant households living under the poverty line, compared with 11% of non-immigrant households. Vulnerable groups also include the elderly, especially elderly women living alone: for example, during the infamous heatwave of 2003, 87% of the 15,000 victims were above 70 years old, and 65% were women.
In geographical comparison, among the hardest hit parts of France will be the overseas territories, most notably the islands of Guadeloupe, Mayotte, Réunion, and Martinique. The combined population of the overseas territories exceeds 2.7 million. Overseas territories are doubly hit compared to mainland France: they suffer from widespread poverty and great income disparities, while also facing more frequent and more intense natural hazards. With sea levels rising an estimated 40 to 100 cm by 2100, these territories will experience loss of land surface, damages to dense coastal infrastructure, and increased salination of freshwater. Also tropical diseases are expected to become more prevalent. All the economic activities that these territories rely on, notably tourism and fisheries, will be heavily impacted by climate change. Besides socio-economic and geographical aspects, the vulnerability of the overseas territories involves a dimension of ethnic inequality, as the territories are former colonies with people of colour representing a large share of the population. However, this dimension is rarely observed in public debate, likely because of France’s historical universalist principles and assimilation practices and the illegality of collecting statistics about ethnic origins.
Because France relies heavily on land agriculture, viticulture and aquaculture on the one hand, and tourism on the other, many people working in these sectors will likely suffer a great deal socially and economically from global warming. The agricultural sector alone stood for nearly 900,000 jobs in France in 2015. The distribution of economic risks associated to agriculture and tourism is unequal across areas and populations. The potentially most exposed regions include Alsace, Provence-Alpes-Côte d´Azur (PACA), Île-de-France, and Brittany, which currently are among the wealthiest parts of the country.
An explicit climate justice perspective lacking despite long-established national adaptation plans
Climate change adaptation has been on the national political agenda in France since the late 1990s. A national climate change adaptation strategy was published in 2006 as one of the first of its kind in Europe, and it has since been followed by two adaptation plans (PNACC 1 and 2) in 2011 and 2018. The plans aim among other things at ‘protecting people and property’ and ‘avoiding inequality in the face of risk’. However, climate justice is nonetheless not treated as a policy area in its own right. Instead, seems to have been incorporated – to a greater or lesser extent – into other policies, such as regional economy or public health. The adaptation plans thus include few action points targeting specifically the most vulnerable groups, or the population in general; in contrast, they do set to identify for example vulnerable industrial sectors and transport networks. Notably, while the adaptation strategy observes the particular challenges of the overseas territories, the adaptation plans instead weave in overseas matters as subfields of general society-wide themes (such as health, water, or natural hazards).
The fact that vulnerable groups are not explicitly considered in policy documents does not mean that they are neglected. Indeed, it is likely that many of these groups do benefit from the projected measures. However, without an explicit policy focus, it is difficult to ensure the protection of those who are most exposed to the impacts of climate change. A targeted approach is needed to ensure that they do not suffer disproportionately either from climate change itself, or inadvertently from the adaptation policies. Therefore, Climate Scorecard strongly recommends introducing measures to safeguard the people most at risk, including through:
- Incorporating climate justice explicitly into the national climate adaptation plan and designing and evaluating climate change policies based on their impact on the poorest parts of the population.
- Incorporating regionally appropriate climate change adaptation measures into anti-poverty policies. These should include education opportunities for workers in sectors threatened by climate change.
- Improving insurance coverage against natural catastrophes and overseeing the fairness and transparency of insurance costs.
- Increasing research efforts on climate justice to better understand the effects and mechanisms impacting the most vulnerable people and to improve policy responses.
- Introducing a climate income system. Climate income imposes a carbon tax on the sale of fossil fuels and distributes the tax revenue across the population through regular payments, which helps overcome social justice problems.
Activity Rating: ** Standing Still
France was one of the forerunners in introducing a climate change adaptation strategy, which also recognized socio-economic and regional inequalities. However, concrete outputs and outcomes pf this strategy remain unclear and potentially ineffectual for the people most at risk, because a targeted approach observing the needs of these groups is lacking. France must sharpen the way it tackles issues of climate justice by introducing policies that pay special attention to the vulnerable parts of the population.
Write to the President of France, Mr. Emmanuel Macron, and Ministers for the Ecological and Inclusive Transition, Ms. Barbara Pompili, Ms. Emmanuelle Wargon, and Mr. Jean-Baptiste Djebbari:
Dear Mr. President, Dear Ms. and Mr. Ministers,
Climate Scorecard recognises that France was one of the first countries in Europe to draft a comprehensive climate change adaptation strategy and ensuing adaptation plans. However, we want to draw your attention to the fact that both the strategy and the plans sorely lack a perspective of social justice – in this context called climate justice. This deficiency risks leaving a great part of the French population vulnerable against the impacts of climate change. Many of these people, such as the poor, the elderly, immigrants, and the inhabitants of the overseas territories, are already today in a disadvantaged position in society. We urge you to introduce a comprehensive and consistent climate justice approach to the national adaptation plan. This should include evaluating climate policies specifically against their impact on the people most at risk; incorporating climate change adaptation measures into anti-poverty policies; and introducing a climate income system.
With our respectful and best regards,
Send Action Alert Message to:
President Emmanuel Macron
Ms. Barbara Pompili, Ms. Emmanuelle Wargon, and Mr. Jean-Baptiste Djebbari
This Post was submitted by Climate Scorecard France Country Manager Anna Savolainan