France unveils blueprint for green revolution

27th September 2007, Comments 0 comments

27 September 2007, PARIS (AFP) - Green taxes on gas-guzzling cars, lower speed caps on highways and eco-labels on supermarket food: French campaigners and businesses on Thursday unveiled a blueprint for a green revolution ahead of a high-profile environmental summit.

27 September 2007

PARIS (AFP) - Green taxes on gas-guzzling cars, lower speed caps on highways and eco-labels on supermarket food: French campaigners and businesses on Thursday unveiled a blueprint for a green revolution ahead of a high-profile environmental summit.

Big business, trade unions, government and environmental groups have been pulled together for the first time to draw up a green master plan, to be put to a public debate and finalised at a summit chaired by President Nicolas Sarkozy late next month.

"We have no alternative but to radically change the rules and bring about an environmental revolution," Jean-Louis Borloo, the minister for the environment and sustainable development, told participants as they unveiled their findings.

Road transport -- which accounts for a quarter of France's greenhouse-gas emissions -- was defined as a key priority, with plans to slash all national speed limits by 10 kilometres (six miles) per hour.

Consumers would be steered away from powerful, gas-guzzling cars -- which account for half all new vehicle sales in France -- via a system of annual bonuses and penalties based on the car's energy-efficiency.

Both ideas were floated in 2003, but finally dropped in the face of protests from motorists' groups.

But studies suggest mentalities are changing: 93 percent of respondents to a poll for the environment ministry said they were ready to make efforts in their everyday lives to protect the environment.

Other proposals called for all newly-built homes to be self-sufficient in energy by 2020, accompanied by 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 was encouraged as a way to steer consumers towards greener produce.

"Our biggest challenge is to reorganise society before dwindling resources force us towards a society of restrictions," Borloo told Le Monde newspaper Thursday.

He pointed at the highly successful bike-rental programme launched this summer in Paris as evidence that "sustainability is not a tragedy. It can be a source of innovation and happiness."

On tackling environmental pollution, green groups were united in calling for a cutback in the use of pesticides in Europe's biggest agricultural producer -- a move backed by 81 percent of the public.

Farmers' representatives have agreed in theory, so long as they are given viable alternatives for tackling crop disease.

The working group on agriculture also backed a big push to get 20 percent of organic food into school canteens by 2012 and to triple the share of organic crops -- currently less than two percent -- by 2010.

It steered clear however of calling for a freeze of the sale of genetically-modified (GM) seeds, after grain producers threatened to boycott the summit in protest.

Environmentalists argue GM foods risk contaminating conventional crops -- an explosive issue in France where activists led by Jose Bove have been jailed for attacking transgenic crops.

The working group compromised by calling for a new high authority to step up research on GM crops and report to the government as it prepares new legislation.

Participants failed to narrow their differences concerning France's reliance on nuclear power, which accounts for 80 percent of its electricity production, and a minority of environmental groups boycotted the debates in protest at the government's refusal to review its nuclear strategy.

But most environmental NGOs say the summit marks a watershed: after years of being shunned, activists are invited to the negotiating table as stakeholders.

Sarkozy promised during his election campaign to convene the summit whose name in French, le Grenelle de l'Environnement, evokes a 1968 conference when government sat down with unions to end weeks of social unrest.

AFP

Subject: French news

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