Tuesday, 19 July 2005
FRANCE FEELS THE HEAT
by Julio Godoy
PARIS (IPS) - French scientists and environmental groups say global
warming could hit France particularly hard.
Scientists are anticipating high summer temperatures, droughts,
erosion and the consequent damage to agriculture, destruction of
beaches, and dangers for biodiversity and human health.
A report 'Un climat à la dérive, comment s'adapter?' ('A changing
climate - how to adapt to it?') presented to the government late in
June by the National Observatory on the Effect of Global Warming
(ONERC, after its French name) says temperatures in France could rise
by nine degrees Celsius by the end of this century.
This would exceed the worst-case scenario expectations presented by
the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) of a global
average of close to six percent by the end of the century. The IPCC
was set up by the World Meteorological Organisation and the United
Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) to assess scientific,
technical and socio-economic information for an understanding of
The projection is based on a study of rise in temperatures globally
and in France. "Since 1950, global temperature has risen by 0.6
degrees, but in France by 1 degree," ONERC president Paul Vergès told
One of the consequences would be far hotter summers than the one of
2003 that led to more than 15,000 deaths in France.
France is particularly vulnerable to the effects of global warming
due to changes in sea streams, environmentalists say. According to
official figures, more than a fifth of the French coast is already
affected by erosion.
The erosion is particularly visible at the beaches on the south-west
Atlantic coast. It is affecting around half of all beaches here,
including well-known tourist resorts such as Cap Breton, Cap Ferret,
Soulac sur Mer and Biscarrosse.
According to a 2003 study by the University of Bordeaux, erosion in
Biscarrosse has shrunk beaches by some 60 metres between 1957 and
2002. This was more marked between 1997 and 2002, when beaches shrank
15 metres. Environmentalists say erosion of beaches is directly
linked to global warming. Sea level is believed to have risen as a
result of higher water temperature and the melting of glaciers,
leading to more powerful tides and a change in the pattern of water
The IPCC has estimated that sea levels could rise 44 cm by 2100. That
would be three times the rise in sea level in the last century.
French authorities have been building artificial reefs to contain the
power of tides and limit damage to beaches. Chains of giant stones
have been placed at sites where erosion of beaches is greatest. But
this may prove an insufficient measure.
"Building artificial reefs is as though you would plant a couple of
trees in the desert, arguing that a forest there would be a good
idea," says Denis Lacroix at Ifremer, a French institution that
studies sea resources.
"Artificial reefs stop somehow the erosion, but it is extremely
difficult to gauge their impact on a larger scale, or the secondary
effects," Lacroix told IPS. Roland Paskoff, professor emeritus at the
university of Lyon, says artificial reefs are like aspirin. "You can
reduce fever, but not heal the disease." They need to be reinforced
by more radical measures, he said. Vergès points to other changes
taking place in France. "We can observe a substantial retreat of
glaciers in the French Alps," he said.
Evidence of such changes is more than anecdotal, says Christophe
Aubel, director of the non-governmental organisation France Nature
Environnement. "We are obviously facing disquieting climate change,
which can provoke the annihilation of hundreds of thousands of
species by the year 2050," he told IPS.
France Nature Environnement has released a booklet 'Changement
climatique: la nature menacée en France/en savoir plus et agir'
('Climate change: nature under threat in France/To know more, and how
to act') in cooperation with Greenpeace France and the World Wildlife
Fund. Rising water temperatures and deforestation as a result of
global warming are already bringing the extinction of fish and other
species, Aubel said. "What is in particular danger is biodiversity."