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France aims for 'green revolution'

Greenpeace estimates that France needs to slash its greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent by the year 2030. Road transport -- which accounts for a quarter of French emissions -- is a top priority.
by Staff Writers
Paris (AFP) Oct 24, 2007
Green campaigners, scientists and big business Wednesday hammered out plans to slash France's greenhouse gas emissions at a round-table aimed at launching an environmental revolution in Europe's third-biggest economy.

President Nicolas Sarkozy was to conclude the two-day government summit on Thursday, outlining a raft of green measures in the presence of Nobel Peace Prize winning climate crusaders, former US vice president Al Gore and Kenyan green advocate Wangari Maathai.

Sarkozy vowed following his election in May to put sustainability at the heart of his government and expectations are high from the summit, which wraps up four months of talks between business, farmers, experts and campaigners.

"Everyone is agreed that we can cut France's energy consumption by 20 percent by 2020, and even 38 percent in construction," Sarkozy's environment "superminister" Jean-Louis Borloo said following the morning's talks on ways to fight climate change.

"This may be the start of a whole new kind of governance," Prime Minister Francois Fillon told reporters.

Greenpeace estimates that France needs to slash its greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent by the year 2030.

Road transport -- which accounts for a quarter of French emissions -- is a top priority.

Participants at the climate round-table agreed on a plan to move all trucks off France's major highways, creating two new freight rail links from north to southeast and north to southwest within the next three years.

Borloo also announced a freeze on the building of new roads and airports while consumers will be steered away from gas-guzzling cars through bonuses and penalties, and France's tramway and TGV high-speed train networks are to be extended.

But tougher measures to cut transport emissions, from a speed cap on highways to a fuel tax on shorthaul domestic flights, did not make it onto the shortlist.

Sarkozy was Thursday to announce a decision on the most controversial proposal -- a carbon tax on polluting products -- after participants failed to reach an agreement.

The round-table also called for a nationwide push to improve the energy-efficiency of new and existing buildings, with a target of 20 percent energy savings by 2010.

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

Other proposals on the table include carbon-footprint labelling to track the environmental impact of supermarket goods, as a way to steer consumers towards greener produce.

Participants were also expected to agree on a temporary freeze on the sale of genetically-modified (GMO) crop seeds -- an explosive issue in France, Europe's biggest agricultural producer -- while the government prepares new biotech legislation.

"On the whole, we are happy with the morning's work," said Yannick Jadot, spokesman for the Alliance for the Planet bringing together 80 environmental groups.

"The results are very satisfactory on housing and transport. This shows a clear ambition" to cut energy consumption.

But environmentalists warn that France, a laggard on many green issues, has to catch up with its neighbours before it can provide global leadership in the field, as it has vowed to do as president of the European Union next year.

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 the government sat down with unions to end major social unrest.

The summit conclusions are expected to translate into 15-20 action plans to be put to parliament early next year.

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