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28/09/2016

Air pollution and climate change top French environmental concerns

Climate & Environment

Air pollution and climate change top French environmental concerns

Action on air pollution in Paris has raised awareness of the issue.

[Philippe Le Moine/Flickr]

The French General Commission on Sustainable Development (CGDD) has published its annual study on France’s environmental concerns. Air quality has become a more prominent issue than ever before. EurActiv’s partner Journal de l’Environnement reports.

French citizens ranked air quality as their second most pressing environmental concern in 2015. Never before has the issue been so prominent in the annual CGDD report on the environmental opinions and practices of the French population.

One of the most plausible explanations for this is change of attitude is the awareness raised by the implementation of road space rationing in Paris (on 17 March 2014, the again on 23 March 2015), following spikes in atmospheric pollution.

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Climate change held on to the top spot, bolstered by the international climate conference (COP 21), held in Paris from 30 November to 12 December last year.

Noise pollution largely forgotten

Natural disasters have also become a major cause for concern (chosen by 18% of respondents) since the flooding on the Côte d’Azur in October 2015, ahead of the pollution of water, rivers and lakes (10%).

The increase in household waste, the erosion of biodiversity and the degradation of marine environments have visibly dropped off the radar for many citizens. And noise pollution is almost entirely forgotten.

Sharing out responsibility

While most of the people questioned were able to cite a number of “environmental problems”, one third said they were not directly confronted, or concerned, by any of these issues. For individuals, it is the challenges of their own environment, like a lack of public transport or excessive noise, which push them to act.

But can their actions have any effect? “Almost half of French citizens still believe that it should be up to the public authorities to protect the environment,” the CGDD wrote. And businesses are also increasingly cited as “having a leading role to play for the environment”.

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“In the morning, this traffic island is packed with children and pushchairs and they are about a metre from all the exhausts,” says Shazia Ali-Webber. She is walking her three boys to school in Hackney, the eldest of whom, Zain, is eight and asthmatic.

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In 2012, the French public still believed households and businesses shared an equal responsibility for action on environmental pollution, but in 2015, a considerable gap has emerged. Today, only 20% of French citizens believe households should make environmental action “a priority”.

The dominant vehicle

61% of respondents use a car or other motor vehicle to get to work or go shopping. Two thirds of these do not believe they have a viable alternative, and the number of those who think they will one day be able to do without a motor vehicle has risen very little in the last five years.

Price seems to have little dissuasive influence when it comes to motor vehicles: much more effective in motivating a change in travel habits are factors like the availability of public transport and the quality of cycle routes.

Cycling is still a very marginal activity, with only 1% of French citizens traveling to work or doing their shopping by bike.