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How is the city of Paris adapting to climate change? – FRANCE 24 English

After a summer of searing heatwaves and droughts, the city of Paris is under pressure to revise and accelerate its much-touted plans to prepare the French capital for the challenges of global warming. FRANCE 24 takes a close look at the city’s efforts to go green. 

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Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, best known for her pledge to make Paris 100% bikeable, has made tackling climate change a top priority and is widely regarded as a vocal advocate of greening Europe’s capital cities. However, this past scorching summer has highlighted the need to accelerate efforts to make Paris more resistant to the effects of global warming. 

The city of Paris has won plaudits for its Climate Action Plan, which aims to make the city carbon neutral by 2050. According to Vincent Viguié, a researcher in climate change economics at the Centre for International Research on Environment and Development (CIRED), the plan “places the city among the most active in the world on this subject, both in terms of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to the present and future impacts of climate change”.  

But for Alexandre Florentin, a Paris councillor and member of the green party Génération écologie, the city’s administration must be careful not to rest on its laurels.

While Paris “was ahead of other cities” when it first published its Climate Action Plan, he says, it has since “fallen behind when it comes to the energy and climate crises”.

“The climate emergency doesn’t shape the rest of the city’s policy enough, when it should be driving it,” he says. For instance, “it’s great to build bicycle lanes, but we don’t think enough about the impact of mass tourism and aeroplanes. We need to do things in conjunction”.

Hidalgo’s green belt

The Paris Climate Action Plan was revised in June with the aim of accelerating the city’s ecological transition and ensuring it remains on track to meet targets set under the UN-backed Paris Climate Agreement of 2015.  The idea was to focus on the specific needs of each Parisian arrondissement (district) and step up efforts to reduce inequalities that have been further exacerbated by climate change.  

At the start of the year, the main environmental objectives listed on the City Hall’s website included making schools more accessible by foot, transforming playgrounds into “oases” and planting more than 22,000 trees to combat heatwaves and bolster biodiversity.

In May, Hidalgo announced that she wanted to transform the city’s 35 km-long périphérique (ring-road) from a “grey belt” into a “green belt” by planting a total of 70,000 trees and reducing the number of traffic lanes from 4 to 3. For 2024, when Paris is due to host the summer Olympics, Hidalgo has plans to create an “Olympic lane”, which will be designated for buses, taxes and carpooling for those participating in the Olympics. According to the mayor’s deputy, David Belliard, this would help reduce traffic by up to 80,000 vehicles.  

The Paris mayor has also pledged to plant more than 170,000 trees in the city itself and expand its parks and gardens by 30 hectares by 2026.

Some initiatives have run into heated criticism – not least when an environmental activist shared a video claiming that centuries-old trees had been cut down on the city’s outskirts to make way for Hidalgo’s “green belt”.  

“It doesn’t make sense to chop trees down in order to plant others,” said Florentin. “There is no consensus on the urgency of the situation. If there was, adapting to climate change would be the number one priority. We wouldn’t be building anything new, but rather adapting what is already there.”

For CIRED’s Viguié, however, initiatives like the green belt “can be very effective” – and an example to follow for others.  

“I would like to see these measures applied to other communes in the Paris region,” he said. “The city of Paris only makes up a small part of the region. When you look elsewhere, things are very different and policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in transport or buildings, for example, are much less developed.”  

‘Clock is ticking’

Following a summer of searing heat, one of the city’s top priorities will be to adapt buildings to ensure they withstand extreme temperatures. Some 55,000 social housing units have already received financial aid as part of a vast programme to reduce energy consumption and adapt buildings to climate change. According to Paris officials, this will result in 54% savings in energy consumption and a 56% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

The objective is also to undertake the energy-efficient renovation of 40,000 private residential buildings per year starting from 2030.

Making buildings energy-efficient includes planting trees, thermally insulating attics, roofs, ceilings and walls, improving heating systems, installing double-glazed windows, improving ventilation systems and installing blinds for use in winter and summer. Bio-sourced products are used to reduce buildings’ carbon footprint.  

As things stand, “in 10 to 20 years, some apartments will be classified as unliveable, at least for part of the year”, says Florentin, noting that many Parisians have complained about not being able to tolerate the high temperatures experienced this summer.

His party, Génération écologie, has successfully lobbied to set up an appraisal committee to review and improve the city’s Climate Action Plan. While the committee was already in the pipeline, he concedes that this year’s heatwaves “helped push things forward”.

Starting in October, the committee will hold six months of weekly meetings involving representatives from all the political parties present on the Paris Council. It will gather experts, politicians and scientists with the goal of “acquiring a better understanding of what kind of climate change indicators, including heatwaves, we will have to face”, says Florentin.  

“I feel that there is a lack of understanding of the science in the political sphere,” said the Paris councillor. “Many politicians simply do not understand that we will face a lot of heatwaves within the next 30 years. A lot of people were surprised by what happened this summer, but scientists had warned us.”  

According to Dr. Vivian Dépoues, a Climate Change Adaptation Project Leader at the Institute for Climate Economics, Paris officials need to work on a “more profound transformation of the city”. Some questions, such as “how to make hospitals more resistant to heatwaves, for instance, have not been raised or examined closely enough as they are difficult ones”, he said.

Paris also needs to improve its management of water resources, says Aude Lemonsu, a researcher at the Centre National de Recherches Météorologiques. She advocates “introducing pervious soils and rainwater recovery systems” to offset the effects of extreme weather events, such as storms or droughts.

On all these issues, Paris officials must work to “get ahead of the problem” rather than chase after it, Florentin adds: “The city of Paris has been working on this for quite a while already, but like for all other cities, the clock is ticking and the race has started.”

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