Sarkozy unveils green master plan for France

25th October 2007, Comments 0 comments

25 October 2007, PARIS (AFP) - President Nicolas Sarkozy, with Nobel-winning climate crusader Al Gore at his side, was to launch a raft of measures Thursday aimed at sparking a green revolution in France.

25 October 2007

PARIS (AFP) - President Nicolas Sarkozy, with Nobel-winning climate crusader Al Gore at his side, was to launch a raft of measures Thursday aimed at sparking a green revolution in France.

Chief among the platform of measures, Sarkozy was to announce whether France would introduce a "carbon tax" on fuel and other polluting products, in a speech wrapping up four months of tough negotiations between the government, industry and the green lobby.

Former US vice president Gore, guest of honour at the Elysee palace, is to start the proceedings with a speech on climate change, flanked by his fellow Nobel winner the Kenyan Wangari Maathai, and European Commission head Jose Manuel Barroso.

Working groups have been holding two days of final round-table talks to agree on a plan to slash France's greenhouse-gas emissions, cut pollution and foster biodiversity, to be endorsed by Sarkozy.

Road transport -- responsible for a quarter of French emissions -- was a key target, with an agreement to freeze the building of new highways and airports, and steer consumers away from gas-guzzling cars through bonuses and penalties.

France's tramway and TGV high-speed train networks are to be extended, and trucks shifted off France's major highways and onto two vast new cross-country freight rail links.

Other plans include a nationwide push to improve the energy-efficiency of new and existing buildings, with a target of 20 percent energy savings by 2010.

Tougher, unpopular measures to cut transport emissions, from a speed cap on highways to a fuel tax on domestic flights, did not make it onto the list.

But the "carbon tax" -- a bold but contested measure, renamed "energy climate contribution" and left for Sarkozy to decide -- is seen by campaigners as a test of the forum's success.

Environmentalists said the tax, calculated from the greenhouse gases emitted to produce and market goods, would be "painless" for consumers and business, starting at a few cents per litre of fuel.

Gradually increasing each year, its proceeds would be used, for instance, to fund the transfer of freight from road to rail.

On another explosive issue, genetically-modified (GMO) crops, participants settled on a temporary freeze on the sale of GMO seeds to review the scientific evidence on contamination risks pending a new law in January -- a solution judged "insufficient" by the anti-GM camp.

The round-table on agriculture agreed to halve the frequency of pesticide treatments but set no deadline under pressure from the farm lobby -- to the anger of green campaigners. The government also said it was prepared to ban 47 highly toxic pesticides.

Organic food received a big boost, with plans to lift share of organic crops in Europe's biggest agricultural producer from two to 20 percent by 2020, and make 20 percent of school meals organic.

France's reliance on nuclear power, which accounts for more than 80 percent of electricity production, was not up for discussion, since the government refuses to review its nuclear energy strategy.

Sarkozy vowed following his election in May to put sustainability at the heart of his government and expectations were high from the summit.

Greenpeace estimates that France, Europe's third-biggest economy, needs to slash greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent by the year 2030.

The Alliance for the Planet, bringing together 80 environmental groups, has said it is globally satisfied with results so far, but warns France, a laggard on many green issues, has to catch up with its neighbours before it can provide global leadership in the field.


Subject: French news

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