Thursday, October 4, 2007

French face tough choices to help save the planet

Independent (UK): In a huge consultation exercise starting this week, the people of France will be asked whether they want to save the planet. The answer is likely to be "oui". They will, however, also be asked harder questions:

Are French drivers willing to accept lower speed limits on motorways and ordinary roads to reduce carbon emissions? Are French consumers prepared to pay more for their food, to allow "bio", or organic, farming to take over one fifth of all fields in the next 13 years? Are French farmers ready to give up their addiction to pesticides?

Are homeowners prepared to pay up to ¿20,000 (£14,000) – ¿600bn in total – to insulate their houses? The consultation exercise – including an internet questionnaire and 17 public meetings – is part of a green revolution promised by President Nicolas Sarkozy during his election campaign in the spring. At the end of this month, all interested parties – employers, unions, farmers, consumers, green pressure groups, hunters and conservationists, even bull-fight fans and anti-bull-fight campaigners – will be invited to a conference in Paris.

The results of this conference will influence, but not directly decide, President Sarkozy's environmental policies for the next five years. Working groups have already put forward a series of radical proposals (and discarded even more radical ones).

Over the next three weeks, the public will be asked whether the speed limits on French roads should be reduced from 130kph (80mph) to 120kph on motorways and 90kph to 80kph on rural roads. Environmental and road safety campaigners say that this would save 1.8 million tonnes of carbon emissions each year. The car and truck lobbies say that France "cannot save the planet" by knocking 10kph off speed limits. According to opinion polls, the public is split 50/50. Another contentious issue is likely to be the future of GM crops, pesticides and organic farming.

The more radical green campaigners have already dismissed the conference as a political stunt. Others say that President Sarkozy has at least been willing to put the issues of climate change and sustainable development at the centre of national debate.

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