France slammed for environment record

23rd January 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Jan 23 (AFP) - France plays host Monday to a five-day international conference on biodiversity, but stands criticised itself for failing to live up to its self-proclaimed standards on promoting conservation, according to many environmental experts.

PARIS, Jan 23 (AFP) - France plays host Monday to a five-day international conference on biodiversity, but stands criticised itself for failing to live up to its self-proclaimed standards on promoting conservation, according to many environmental experts.

"France is both a country extremely rich in biodiversity and the fourth economic power in the world. It has a prime responsibility," said Sebastien Moncorps, French director of the World Union for Nature.

Thanks to its overseas territories France possesses some 10 percent of the world's coral reefs, 20 percent of its atolls and - in French Guyana - a vast area of tropical rainforest.

In mainland France four out of Europe's five "biodiversity zones" are represented: Alpine, continental, Atlantic and Mediterranean.

But critics say this environmental wealth is only patchily protected. National parks for example represent only 2.3 percent of the territory and none has been created since 1989 - in Guadeloupe.

"France possesses the third largest area of sea in the world, after the US and Canada, but has only classified 0.0001 percent as a protected marine zone," laments Moncorps.

On the European level France has put up repeated obstacles to environmental directives from Brussels - earning a series of rebukes. The Commission has threatened new judicial proceedings if Paris does not respond to six separate condemnations from the EU's Court of Justice.

The most serious breach of EU directives was France's failure to propose a sufficient number of sites of special natural interest in accordance with the Natura 2000 programme, experts said.

Recently the killing by a hunter of one of the last remaining bears in the Pyrenees mountains that straddle the French-Spanish border is a reminder of how precarious is the balance between wildlife and human activity.

The government has also authorised the culling of wolves for the first time in nearly a century.

"There is no need to go to the end of the world to find disappearing species," says Moncorps. "The monk seal disappeared from the Mediterranean in1975 and the last ibex in the Pyrenees died in 2002."

"Some common species like the swallow and the grey partridge are losing numbers fast," says Hubert Reeves of the Ligue Roc. "In ten years our urban areas have grown by 30 percent. Wetlands and marshlands which are rich in species continue to disappear," he says.

According to a recent study by the Natural History Museum, bird numbers have declined by ten percent in France since 1989.

France also has the fourth largest fishing fleet in the world and is the third biggest user of pesticides, critics note.

On paper France has signed up to all the right protocols and international agreements, but its record in practice is another matter, the critics say.

"We have a great strategy but no way of putting it into effect," says Nicolas Hulot, the environmentalist and television presenter who is President Jacques Chirac's adviser on ecology.

The international conference entitled "Biodoversity: science and governance" opens Monday at the Paris headquarters of the UN educational and scientific agency UNESCO.

Bringing together more than 1,000 scientists, policy-makers, business leaders and non-governmental organisations, its aim is to "take stock of the current knowledge, shortcomings and controversial issues with a view to opening up a dialogue ... on the management of biodiversity."

© AFP

Subject: French News

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