The new Socialist government in France is taking a strong stance on environmental protection.
Not only has it renewed the 2008 ban on genetically modified crops (GMOs) despite pressure to drop it from the EU, it has put its foot down (again) against fracking, and is committed to reducing dependence on nuclear power in favor of renewable energy.
GMO Ban Remains
France is extending its temporary ban on Monsanto’s MON810 corn, even though other European countries allow it and the EU may ultimately order the country to lift it.
This GMO corn is the only genetically engineered product that’s been approved in Europe. In the US, this sweet corn is headed directly for supermarket shelves after it was quietly approved by the USDA.
The French public opposes GMOs and the use of chemicals in farming. The government also plans to to aerial pesticide spraying to reduce the use of toxic chemicals.
This week, French scientists released data showing that rats fed with a different strain of Monsanto GMO corn (NK603) or exposed to its weedkiller suffer from mammary tumors and liver and kidney damage. The rats died earlier than those on a standard diet fed to the control group. Although other scientists question the finding, the government plans to investigate further.
"Based on the conclusion …, the government will ask the European authorities to take all necessary measures to protect human and animal health, measures that could go as far as an emergency suspension of imports of NK603 maize in the European Union," says the French government.
No Fracking Allowed
France also intends to prevent natural gas fracking, despite the country’s potentially rich reserves of recoverable shale gas – at least as long as President Francois Hollande is in office.
This stance is meeting opposition from businesses and labor unions that are pushing for the country to reduce dependence on natural gas imports and nuclear power.
But that hasn’t stopped Hollande’s team from rejecting seven different applications for exploration permits, citing "the heavy risk to health and the environment."
Fracking uses an enormous amount of water – essentially taking it out of the water supply forever, which is something the planet can ill-afford. Other harmful environmental side effects include landslides and earthquakes that have been associated with disposal wells.
More than 100 applications for conventional onshore oil and natural gas development have also been blocked.
Broader Renewable Energy Mix Encouraged
Nuclear advocates point to the fact that France relies on this energy for the majority of its mix, but France wants to cut that.
Its target is to reduce nuclear’s share to 50% (down from 75%) by 2025, while increasing renewable energy from the current 13% to 23% by 2020.
100,000 people are employed in the renewable energy sector and Hollande views it as an important part of tackling soaring unemployment as well as supplying clean, safe energy.
The industry estimates it can employ more 225,000 people by 2020 if production targets are met.
This year, the government plans to open bidding for solar energy projects and two offshore wind farms – one off the Atlantic coast and one in the English Channel.
France has long been postponing its first offshore wind farms, but is calling for 25,000 megawatts (MW) of wind, tidal and wave power by 2020, with 6000 MW of that offshore. Wind energy accounts for just 2% of France’s power today, while solar generates less than 0.5%.
To spur investment in renewables, the government is including a tax in its 2013 budget levied on businesses that contribute to air pollution. It is also reviewing the federal tax it adds on electricity bills to help defray the higher costs of renewable energy.