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Paris

The City of Paris has reduced its carbon footprint by 9.2 per cent in ten years, but must step up its efforts

The City of Paris already has a funny name for the beneficiaries of its new initiative : les Parisculteurs, but there’s no harvest yet. The City Council has promised Parisians some 30 hectares to cultivate by 2020, as part of its new plan to grow plants and vegetables on 100 hectares of roof space and façades, one third of which will be designated to food production.

Currently in fashion, urban agriculture saves hours, even days, of food transportation time ; cutting greenhouse gas emissions, while green rooftops absorb the sun’s rays in summer, thereby reducing the need for air conditioning.

Little by little, the Mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, is trying to make her city greener. She’s following in the footsteps of her predecessor, Bertrand Delanoë, but taking a bolder approach. In September, she took traffic restrictions in Paris a step further, closing the urban highway which ran along the right bank of the Seine River. While commuters are not pleased, Parisians and tourists are delighted to reclaim the right bank for strolling and leisure activities.

Paris is slowly following the path taken by northern European cities. Even the right-wing opposition, once so opposed to such policies, now recognizes the need to reduce the prevalence of diesel in the city. And businesses, pragmatic as always, are slowly coming to terms with the vehicle restrictions. Electric truck deliveries are expanding and the RATP, the state-owned public transport operator, is gradually introducing buses powered by electricity or natural gas.

Gradually, the results are showing. Between 2004 and 2014 there was a calculated decrease of 9.2 percent in greenhouse gas emissions, equivalent to 25.6 million tonnes, according to the city’s carbon footprint published in July. The scope of the study is broad, going as far as to include Parisians’ air travel, which makes up around one quarter of the total and goes up by 3% over the ten year period. This is the only noteworthy setback, along with a 10% increase in emissions linked to food, due to demographics. Freight transport is the sector which has contributed the most to the overall reduction, accounting for a decrease of 18% to five million tonnes, though this is probably more closely related to the effects of the financial crisis than the greening of logistics. The same explanation can be given for the decrease in the impact of the consumption of raw materials (the construction industry crisis).

Emissions from buildings have gone down by 15%. Paris City Council attributes this progress to offices and businesses, as well as households having reduced their consumption. National policies to promote energy efficiency, along with the increasing availability of products that offer better environmental performance are continuing to help reduce emissions from heating, lighting and household appliances, in particular.

Since 2001, the car reduction policy has clearly had a positive effect on pollutants as emissions from land passenger transport shrank by 23%, or even 39% if the Paris ring road is excluded. In ten years, car traffic in Paris has decreased by 30% and the number of cars has dropped from 600,000 to 500,000. Improved circulation of buses due to bus-only lanes, and the installation of an improved tram system has boosted the performance of public transport in the capital.

Despite this progress, emission levels in Paris are not falling fast enough. The 2012 Paris Climate & Energy Plan had set the objective of cutting greenhouse gas levels in France by a quarter between 2004 and 2020. The City Council acknowledges that it will have to speed up its actions. Its urban plan approved in July has already tightened the energy performance standards required of new buildings to a level beyond the national standard, and the city wants to continue testing new innovations. It has identified 170 buildings in which it wants to install heat exchangers to recover energy from waste water. More than 100,000 square metres of rooftops sufficiently sunny for photovoltaic panels, have also been identified. In addition, 100 geothermal energy sites could be exploited within Paris proper. Even water from the Seine River will be used to cool municipal buildings.

One expert on climate issues at municipal level commends the city’s willingness, but doubts its ability to succeed. He claims that two elements that would significantly contribute to lowering emissions fall outside of the city’s administrative scope. Firstly, a large number of people living in the east of Paris are making long commutes on a daily basis; an issue that could be addressed by moving offices towards the east of the city. As for the thermal renovation of buildings and homes, while the City of Paris is increasing financial aid to property management companies and housing associations, the investment is not taking off, mostly because of low energy prices. He argues that the State could take coercive measures in this case, by imposing renovation requirements before a sale, for example.

This is not enough to discourage Anne Hidalgo, though. She has just taken over the presidency of the C40 Climate Leadership Group, an organisation comprised of mayors of large cities dedicated to fighting global warming, and it has been one year since the city hosted the climate summit at the end of 2015. The ‘green’ spotlight is on the City of Paris, which must now work on accelerating the progress that is reflected in these medium-term results.

By Matthieu Quiret – Les Echos, France

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