France kicks off 'green revolution' summit
24 October 2007, PARIS (AFP) - Green campaigners and big business on Wednesday opened a marathon two-day round-table with the French government aimed at kickstarting an environmental revolution in Europe's third-biggest economy.
24 October 2007
PARIS (AFP) - Green campaigners and big business on Wednesday opened a marathon two-day round-table with the French government aimed at kickstarting an environmental revolution in Europe's third-biggest economy.
President Nicolas Sarkozy closes the summit Thursday with a speech outlining a master plan to slash France's environmental impact, in the presence of the Nobel Peace Prize winning climate crusaders Al Gore and Wangari Maathai.
Thousands of French people -- as well as the Eiffel Tower -- joined in a five-minute "lights-out" for the planet late Tuesday in a show of support for the event, which concludes weeks of talks between government, business, farmers and campaigners.
"This may be the start of a whole new kind of governance," Prime Minister Francois Fillon told reporters before the opening session on climate change -- the first of nine themes to be tackled over the next two days.
"We are in the process of reconciling ecology and economic development," said Fillon, flanked by Environment Minister Jean-Louis Borloo, and the ministers for housing, transport, research and education.
Sarkozy vowed following his election in May to put sustainability at the heart of his government, creating a new post of environment "superminister" with the rank of cabinet number two.
Expectations are high following the weeks of negotiations covering everything from transport to construction and farming.
Environmentalists warn that France -- a laggard in Europe on many green issues -- first has to catch up with its neighbours before it can hope to provide global leadership on green issues.
Greenpeace has said it is expecting Sarkozy to deliver "real results" -- calling for a firm commitment from France to slash its emissions that cause global warming by 30 percent in the year 2030.
"There will probably be a lot of good and useful measures, but we have to add it all together -- and if it doesn't have any promise of reaching that target then it's not a good result," said Gerd Leipold, executive director of Greenpeace International, in Paris for the event.
"We cannot imagine coming out of this with just a few token measures. We need figures, budgets, timetables," said Yannick Jadot, spokesman for the Alliance for the Planet which brings together 80 environmental groups.
Road transport -- which accounts for a quarter of France's greenhouse-gas emissions -- is a key priority.
Blueprint measures to cut transport emissions by 20 percent by 2020 include a system of bonuses and penalties to steer consumers away from powerful, gas-guzzling cars, and an eco-tax to shift freight transport from road to rail.
But the government was expected to stop short of backing unpopular new speed caps on highways, or a fuel-tax on shorthaul domestic flights.
Participants have backed the idea of tax breaks to favour green goods and services -- but remain divided over a carbon tax on fuel.
Other proposals call for all new homes to be self-sufficient in energy by 2020, along with a nationwide push to renovate all existing buildings with a view to energy savings.
Carbon-footprint labelling to track the environmental impact of supermarket goods is being encouraged as a way to steer consumers towards greener produce.
Participants failed to narrow their differences concerning France's reliance on nuclear power, which accounts for 80 percent of its electricity production -- an energy strategy the government refuses to review.
But they looked likely to agree on a temporary freeze on the sale of genetically-modified (GMO) crop seeds -- an explosive issue in France, Europe's biggest agricultural producer -- while the government prepares new legislation on biotechnology.
Sarkozy promised during his election campaign to convene the summit whose name in French, le Grenelle de l'Environnement, evokes the place where in 1968 the government sat down with unions to end weeks of social unrest.
The summit conclusions are expected to translate into 15 to 20 action plans to be put to parliament early next year.
Subject: French news