Green groups turn up pressure ahead of summit

23rd October 2007, Comments 0 comments

23 October 2007, PARIS (AFP) - Global environmental campaigners converge on the French capital this week for a two-day summit aimed at kick-starting a green revolution in Europe's third-biggest economy.

23 October 2007

PARIS (AFP) - Global environmental campaigners converge on the French capital this week for a two-day summit aimed at kick-starting a green revolution in Europe's third-biggest economy.

Two weeks after the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to former US vice president Al Gore for his crusade against climate change, President Nicolas Sarkozy is due Friday to announce a master plan aimed at slashing France's environmental impact.

Covering everything from transport to construction and farming, the plans are to be finalised at a round-table Thursday and Friday from a blueprint drawn up during talks between government, business, campaigners and the public.

"What we expect is no more and no less than the start of a transformation of French society towards a sustainable society," Pascal Husting, executive director of Greenpeace France, told AFP.

Environmentalists have urged French people to join in a five-minute "lights-out" for the planet, switching off lights on Tuesday from 7:55 to 8:00 pm in a show of support for the event.

They are eager for France -- a laggard in Europe on many green issues -- to catch up with its neighbours and help provide leadership in global climate negotiations, starting with a summit on Bali later this year.

"This whole process has a significance beyond France," added Gerd Leipold, executive director of Greenpeace International, in Paris for the event along with WWF director Jim Leape.

Leipold praised Sarkozy's efforts to put "sustainability at the heart of government" by convening the summit and making Environment Minister Jean-Louis Borloo the cabinet number two, but warned he was expecting "real results".

"We can measure greenhouse gas emissions, and we know France should reduce greenhouse-gas emissions 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."

Road transport -- which accounts for a quarter of France's greenhouse-gas emissions -- is a key priority.

Blueprint measures up for discussion range from new speed caps on highways, to a system of bonuses and penalties to steer consumers away from powerful, gas-guzzling cars, to ways of steering freight transport from road to rail.

Husting charged that "on tough issues like transport, the government is a bit timid, it is reluctant to regulate."

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 -- bringing France into line with other European countries.

Carbon-footprint labelling to track the environmental impact of supermarket goods is being encouraged as a way to steer consumers towards greener produce.

Participants also looked likely to agree on a temporary freeze on the sale of genetically-modified crop seeds -- and explosive issue in France, Europe's biggest agricultural producer -- despite an earlier boycott threat by grain producers.

Environmentalists argue GM crops risk contaminating conventional crops, and a freeze would allow time for extra research while the government prepares new legislation on biotechnology.

But there was no discussion of biofuels, with farmers and environmentalists deeply divided over their costs and benefits.

Participants also 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.

Leipold said he regretted there had not been an "open and frank discussion about nuclear" accusing France of being "irresponsible" for using the argument of climate change to sell its nuclear technology around the world.

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 government sat down with unions to end weeks of social unrest.


Subject: French news

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