Category Archives: Grenelle

French Ecology Ministry downsized and downgraded in reshuffle

Last month’s cabinet reshuffle left the Ecology Ministry – the former jewel in Sarkozy’s crown of 2007  – shrunken and downgraded. Jean Louis Borloo has been replaced by Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet as Minister, with a smaller title (Energy and the Sea have been moved elsewhere), and ranking in the government downgraded from number 2 to number 4. Borloo was Minister of Ecology, Energy, Sustainable Development and Sea, and Kosciusko-Morizet is now Minister of Ecology, Sustainable Development, Transportation and Housing.

Adding insult to injury, President Nicolas Sarkozy has betrayed a key promise of the 2007 Grenelle – that the Ecology Minister would be ranked Number 2 in the government. It is now ranked number 4, behind Defence and Economy and Finance. Energy has gone to the Ministry of Finance.

Friends of the Earth warned that the shift of Energy to the Finance Ministry presages the return to a policy of favouring more nuclear and fossil energy production, thereby satisfying the big corporate lobbies at the expense of the interest of citizens.

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Pesticide lobby triumphs in French parliament

Last month, just one week prior to the passage of the Grenelle 2 legislation (eviscerated beyond recognition) on the environment, a parliamentary commission on science and technology published a 200-page report on “Pesticides and Health” which warned the government against a too-brutal reduction of pesticide use in France because this could precipitate “a complete breakdown of our economy” ,“a probable reduction in productivity”, “an increase in commodity prices” and “the possible disappearance of numerous fruits and vegetables”.

The stunning conclusion is: “No scientific study today can make a human link between consuming foods produced by conventional agriculture which uses phytopharmaceutical products and the incidence of illness and disease.”

This of course flies in the face of the spirit and the text of the Grenelle, which called for a 50% reduction in pesticide use by 2018.

François Veillerette, who heads the MDRGF (an NGO that lobbies against pesticide use) told Libération: “The agro-industrial system which favours shareholders and bankers and which makes a farm disappear every 20 minutes in France has gained the upper hand over environmental and health concerns.”

2010 is the era of “ecoloscepticisme” and a reactionary backlash.

As we edge closer to the season of delicious summertime fruits and vegetables, it is worth taking a minute to recall which ones are high on the list of produce which contains dangerously high concentrations of pesticides.

The Daily Green recently published an updated 2010 version of  “The New Dirty Dozen: 12 Foods to Eat Organic” and there were surprises for me, notably the arrival of blueberries at number 5: “blueberries are treated with as many as 52 pesticides, making them one of the dirtiest berries on the market.”

Among the top 12 are celery, peaches, strawberries, apples, nectarines, spinach, potatoes and cherries.

And here’s a trailer for the documentary “The Idiot Cycle”, a Canadian/French documentary which focuses on the six big chemical companies (BASF, Bayer, Astrazenecca, Monsanto, Dow Chemical and Dupont) which produce cancer-causing chemicals and are also invested in and develop cancer treatments.

Food for thought as we ponder the collapse of the European Union under the collective weight of ballooning national deficits. For how much longer is the current economic system of creating “economic goods” such as poor health, polluted waterways and toxic soils going to persist?

France dumps the carbon tax – death knell for Grenelle?

Daniel Cohn-Bendit, from the barricades of 1968 to 2010 - the only Green left standing in France

Sputtering signs of economic recovery in France have coincided with a big political defeat at the regional polls last month for the right-wing UMP majority and President Nicholas Sarkozy. One of the first things Sarkozy did in the aftermath of the elections was to dump the carbon tax. NGO’s were the first to declare that this meant the death of the Grenelle de l’Environnement. Getting rid of the carbon tax was Sarkozy’s concession to his right-wing base, who had been progressively alienated in the past 2 years by his government’s overtures to the socialist left. Nicholas Hulot, a TV presenter and very popular environmental advocate, denounced the move as a step backwards by the political class. His Fondation Hulot said that it would suspend its participation in the working groups led by the government for the Grenelle – both for the environment and for the Oceans.

France’s Junior Ecology Minister Chantal Jouanno joined the chorus of disapproval.
“I am in despair over this step back, in despair that eco-scepticism has defeated it,” she said, adding: “I am not onside with this decision.”

“It was possible to have done it in France before doing it in Europe,” she said. “It was what we had thought from the beginning; it was what other countries like Sweden have done.”

There are other signs that the societal consensus sealed in 2007 over the urgency to move to a more sustainable mode of economic activity and governance is eroding. My feeling at this point is: Sarkozy did this because he believes he can get away with it, politically. In March, a GM potato called Amflora, was authorized by the European Commission. This is the first GM crop to be authorized in Europe since 1998. A global conference in Doha, Qatar in March overturned a European Commission ruling to ban fishing for bluefin tuna. Sure, NGO’s issued protest statements, but somehow their response has been underwhelming.

But was the Grenelle – which inspired Sarkozy to declare that he would make France a world leader on the environment – ever more than just a process?
The process – which in itself was innovative and ground-breaking at the time – involved being inclusive with all stakeholders, and bringing them together around a round-table to make decisions collectively. The substance of most of the decisions was already written into European legislation, and the subtlety of French political action consists in seeking – or at least appearing to seek – at every turn to enact legislation and/or standards that are more ambitious than what the EU prescribes.

Health risk of cellphone jammers in French cinemas

Inside the Pagode, one of the loveliest cinemas in Paris

Inside the Pagode, one of the loveliest cinemas in Paris

Cellphone jammers are illegal in most countries (the military excepted) but in France, since 2004, it is legal to use jammers in cinemas and theatres.

A cellphone jammer is a device that emits signals in the same frequency range that cellphones use, effectively blocking their transmissions by creating strong interference. In Europe those frequencies are gsm 900MHZ and gsm 1900 MHz.

Someone using a cellphone in the range of a jammer will lose signal, but have no way of knowing a jammer was the reason. The phone will simply indicate poor reception strength. A “jammed” environment in a cinema is basically the equivalent of putting people in a more concentrated electromagnetic radiation incubator, so it’s worth asking how safe this is, especially for young children.

Jammers can be useful for security; say a presidential motorcade, to keep terrorists from detonating a bomb by cellphone. The potential health risk associated with these “jammed” environments has been raised by the case of Belgian soldiers operating in Afghanistan who started showing symptoms of electrohypersensitivity last August – nausea, headaches etc. The suspected cause is the jammer installed in their armoured vehicles – Lockheed Martin’s Symphony IED jammer system – which protects them from cellphone detonated explosions.
While the Belgian Defense Ministry insists that the level of radiation was within acceptable norms, an investigation has been opened and two of the soldiers in the 11th Engineer Battalion in Burcht have been removed from service by doctors.

Meanwhile, in France, the “Grenelle des Ondes” wrapped up a month-long consultation which was so weak-kneed that the NGO’s quit the proceedings before the end, declaring the exercise a farce. No conclusions were reached on the thorny question of cellphone basetowers; proposals were put forward to ban cellphones from elementary school grounds, for telephone operators to offer child-friendly cellphone plans that only allow text-messaging and start selling phones that can only be used with an earpiece.

Via RTL Info Belgique

France launches Grenelle on Oceans

France’s Environment Minister, Jean-Louis Borloo, announced last month the launch of a “Grenelle de la Mer”, modelled on the Grenelle on the Environment and focused exclusively on problems related to fishing and the oceans. The idea is to bring together experts, stakeholders and representatives of the government and business to hammer out a long-term strategic vision for policy over the next five to 10 years. The Grenelle on the Environment did work on oceans and marine resources, but the government seeks to go further and bring together all knowledge and intelligence to generate a fresh set of policy proposals. Four working groups will be formed in the coming month and each of them will work on a theme:

  • Sustainable fishing
  • Employment in the marine sector
  • Coastal development
  • Governance at the local and global level

The working groups will produce a road map before the summer which will then be submitted to an inter-ministerial committee.

One big unanswered question is how to reconcile the need for sustainable fishing policies with the fishing subsidies, which cost France 27 billion euros per year, according to calculations by Daniel Pauly, head of the Fisheries Center of the University of British Colombia. Pauly, quoted recently in Le Monde, maintains that the subsidies allow the over-fishing to continue.

The Common Fisheries Policy was set up by the European Union in 1983 to set annual fishing quotas for key fish species. Over the years, fishing industry pressure has forced politicians to barter for bigger and bigger quotas, despite scientific warnings that stocks were being over-fished.
According to the latest report on fisheries published by the FAO in March, around 28 percent of world fish stocks are over-fished.

French food safety agency rules that GM corn is safe

The French food safety agency, AFSSA, has ruled that MON 810 corn – transgenic corn manfactured by Monsanto – does not constitute a health risk. The ruling, dated Jan 23 but kept secret until an exclusive in today’s Le Figaro, is a political time bomb for the government, already snowed under with strike action from teachers, recession and unemployment woes. Not only does the ruling run counter to the government’s decision to ban MON 810 last year, it also flied in the face of the overwhelming opposition to transgenic crops among the general population

The decision basically throws out all the questions raised against MON 810, whether they pertain to animal health or human health. These included the toxicity of the insecticidal protein (Cry1Ab) which protects the GM corn from pests such as the borer, a possible link with mad cow disease, or the possible carcinogenic potential.

Environment minister Jean-Louis Borloo will have the thankless task of defending the government’s position before the European Commission later this month, for the ban is only defensible if there is clear scientific evidence to back it up.

Furthermore, the AFSSA’s ruling is in line with the findings published on 31 October by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). Austria has been inconflict for the past 10 years with the European executive to prevent the import and sale of GMOs on its territory.

French landmark ruling on cellphone tower

In a first ever for France, telephone operator Bouygues Telecom was ordered on February 4 by a Versailles appeals court court to dismantle cellphone basetowers in the Lyons area on the basis of the precautionary principle and the potential health risk for nearby residents. The ruling is significant because it draws on the latest research such as the Bioinitiative Report as well as recent European court rulings in Salzburg (Austria), Freiburg and Bamberg (Germany) and Helsinki.

The day after the ruling, Nathalie Kosiusko Morizet called for a “Grenelle des Antennes” (a roundtable grouping all stakeholders to brainstorm policy, modelled on the 2007 Grenelle on the Environment) to respond to growing fears among the public about public health risks associated with electro-magnetic fields.

«I am proposing a round table, a Grenelle des antennes, to bring together viewpoints of deputies, elected officials, telephone operators, scientists… and to respond to growing fears of citizens.

Kosciusko-Morizet, formerly Junior Environment Minister who became Secretary of State for the Digital Economy in a cabinet reshuffle last month, is known as an ardent supporter of the precautionary principle.

To find out more about the effects of wireless technology on the body, read this excellent round-up from CBCnews in Canada.

via Liberation and Robin des Toits

What’s left of the Grenelle?

Eighteen months after the Grenelle de l’Environnement, it’s worth taking a look at what’s left of the promises made by President Sarkozy and Jean-Louis Borloo in October 2007. At the time, the meeting was welcomed as innovative and participatory because it brought NGOs into the decision-making process.
Since then those same NGOs have been criticized for their endorsement of a process which has been battered, diluted and edited beyond recognition.

Grenelle I, a broad, big picture text which lays the groundwork for the major reforms envisaged in the Grenelle, was voted in unanimously in October 2008 and appeared to signal a new consensus on the environment among the mainly right-wing deputies. But NGOs were quick to point out that a lot had been sacrificed: the pledge to end the “all-road” era is gone; energy descent targets have been watered down; environmental health has been almost entirely abandoned, the nuclear lobby has been strengthened and it is now impossible to ban a dangerous substance if it is allowed by the European Union.

Grenelle II, which will get a first hearing in parliament in the early months of 2009, will present more challenges to as it is not just more controversial, but also highly technical, and lays out – sector by sector- the major reforms to be implemented in a range of areas from urban planning, construction to carbon capture and biodiversity.

The main axes are:
• Construction – improving energy performance of existing buildings
• Urban planning – compete overhaul to take into account new energy/climate targets
• Transport – series of incentives to boost public transportation use
• Energy – mandatory carbon audit for towns with more than 50,000 residents and companies with more than 500 employees
• Ban on advertising of pesticides to individuals; of cellphones for under-12’s; obligatory labeling of phones and wireless boxes to indicate strength of electromagnetic charge; nanoparticles; biodiversity corridors

Disappointment among the Greens, the left and the NGOs can be summed up by this commentary which ran in December’s issue of La Décroissance: “Elimination of the anti-nuclear movement and political ecology, assertion of the primacy of sustainable development and green capitalism, relaunch of car sales and economic growth, skyscraper construction: this was the deal that the Grenelle participants took part in.”

What’s the real impact of the Grenelle after one year?

One year after the Grenelle on the Environment, what’s the real impact of changes which were decided in an unprecedented coming together of stakeholders across the board from NGOs and unions to business and industry to local authorities. Well, we lost some proposals, such as the carbon tax and the freeze on building new highways. A total of 19 billion euros have been earmarked for 2009-2011 to finance what’s left. The two main items which have come into force already are the “bonus-malus” on cars whereby consumers buying a new car which emits more than 160 g of CO2 per kilometer are penalized with a tax ranging from 200 euros to 2600 euros. Those who own or purchase a car which emits less than 130 g of CO2 per kilometre get a rebate of between 200 and 1000 euros. On the plus side, this has led to 40 percent increase in sales of smaller, lower carbon vehicles, but it has left the state out of pocket by 140 million euros. The law on GM crops was voted in May, but it failed to clarify the crucial issue of what is an acceptable threshold of dissemination of GM crops which could contaminate non-GM crops.

The law on the Grenelle comes up for debate in parliament on October 6, and barring a disaster, these are the things expected to get through: 

– Tighening of entry criteria for the “bonus-malus” – only vehicles emitting less than 125 g of CO2 per kilometre will qualify. The tax on polluting vehicles could be extended to become an annual tax.

– A 15 percent decrease in the volume of non-recycled household waste by 2012

– From 2009, a zero interest loan of up to 30,000 euros for eco-renovation

– Increased emphasis on train transport: By 2030, an additional 4,500 kilometres of high-speed train lines are envisaged. Public transport in cities will get 2.5 billion for development.

– Tax on lorry transport – All lorries of 12 tonnes or more from 2009 will have to pay a tax calculated on the basis of kilometres driven.

– Reduction by 50 percent of pesticide use within the next 10 years. 53 molecules will be withdrawn from the market between now and 2010.

via Le Parisien

 

France to offer 30,000-euro zero interest loan for eco-renovation

via Fußgänger  

 

 

via Fußgänger

 

Home owners in France take note. The French government is planning to offer a zero-interest loan of up to 30,000 euros for eco-renovation. If approved, this plan will take effect as part of the 2009 budget. Dubbed “éco-PTZ” (pret a taux zero), the loan is open to anyone, with no revenue conditions attached, and is limited to a maximum of 30,000 euros over five years. In order to qualify, borrowers must prove they intend to undertake a comprehensive overhaul and not just a one-off item like installing a solar panel or some hemp in the rafters. The plan, initiated by Environment Minister Jean-Louis Borloo, has met resistance from the Finance Ministry as it is expected to cost the government one billion euros. But Borloo argues that it will kick-start the industry in an otherwise sluggish economy.

Via Les Echos