France is undoubtedly one of the countries with the best legal arsenal in the world in terms of nature protection, especially after the law of 8 August 2016 on the restoration of biodiversity, nature and landscapes and the new climate and sustainability law adopted in July. 20, 2021. These two texts bring together a list of very ambitious measures or goals: a commitment to no net loss of biodiversity for all development projects and an objective of “zero net artificialization (ZAN)” » ; combating imported deforestation and nitrogen emissions; environmental quality labeling of products (including biodiversity) and devices to facilitate vegetarian consumption; Prohibition of the construction of commercial surfaces of more than 10,000 square meters and the object of 30% of protected areas; recognition of environmental damage, the crime of endangering the environment (fauna, flora or water) and the crime of ecocide.
Unfortunately, these ambitions remain on paper. Although the Grenelle de l’environnement created an “ecophyto plan” that allowed for a 50% reduction in the amount of pesticides used between 2008 and 2018, the consumption of the latter, on the contrary, increased by 25%. this period. Despite an armada of legislative texts to protect birds nearly two decades ago, the population of species dependent on agricultural environments declined by 39% between 1990 and 2019. Despite the ambition to limit urban sprawl, more than 65,000 hectares of land were being artificialized in France every year. Between 2000 and 2018: this is the highest growth rate of artificialization per inhabitant in Europe.
Several factors explain this discrepancy between the level of ambition and reality: exemption regimes, institutional and incentive mismatches, ineffective sanctions, and lack of human and financial resources.
Exceptions and inconsistencies
France certainly has a significant legal arsenal, but many economic sectors have been spared the planned measures. For example, the Environmental Liability Act of 2008 applies to such a restrictive list of impacts and activities that have never been used, while hundreds of industrial accidents on fauna, flora, soil and water have been listed since 2008! The same logic can be observed with tax breaks that disproportionately benefit the most biodiversity-destroying activities.
In general, government economic support for sectors that damage biodiversity undermines efforts elsewhere to protect it, which means spending a lot of money without getting any results. For example, between 2010 and 2019, the French administration spent 109 million euros to combat green algae; During the same period, between 435 and 614 million euros were paid annually in support of intensive agricultural practices in Brittany. This discontinuity reflects an archaic representation of what “wealth production” means among elected officials and prefects. Thus, France is almost always opposed to Brussels by deep-sea trawling, “traditional” fishing practices, the use of synthetic pesticides, etc.
If the law is not enforced, it is also because the risk of non-compliance is very low. According to a study by the lawyer Louis de Redon, more than 90% of the approximately 22,000 years of environmental crimes in France are caused by refusal to act and alternative measures (such as recalling the law). business. Fines are applied only in 6.7% of cases; their amount remains low (7,600 euros on average) and tends to decrease.
Lack of resources
Biodiversity is also a weak link in the recovery plan adopted to combat the Covid-19 crisis. Of the 100 billion euros spent, 30 billion were promised for the ecological transition. But in reality it was first and foremost about the energy transition, as 27.5 billion is earmarked for the decarbonisation of our economy and finally for standard activity sectors such as transport, vehicle construction or construction. Of the remaining amount, 1.2 billion euros will be allocated to agriculture with almost no environmental conditions, the state called the “high environmental value” certificate (HVE), which is widely known for its unrestricted nature.
At the same time, nothing is planned to compensate for job losses in the environmental department. Thus, the water police experienced a 24% reduction in manpower since 2010, which automatically led to a 73% reduction in checks over the same period. Protected areas (Natura 2000 or natural parks), forests (National Forestry Department), etc. we find the same trends in management.
In the end, everything happens as if the state wants these texts not to be applied above all. Rather, the mere fact that regulatory texts state “zero net artificiality” goals or halve the amount of phytosanitary products used seems to be sufficient to trigger transitions to achieve these goals. This is to forget that there is a cost to all of this: the cost of land de-industrialization to reach ZAN will be between 154 and 632 billion euros over ten years (depending on the level of demand). In France, the total resources allocated to soil contamination and renaturation in the public and private sector are 1.95 billion euros…
How to reverse the trend
This gloomy picture paints a blank picture of the solutions to be brought. But can we hope to reverse the trend, and where do we start? At the judicial level, firstly, 2021 gave some reasons for hope with several decisions recognizing environmental damage and sentencing those who destroy nature to fines of tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of euros. Decisions made at the first instance were upheld on appeal, which is new. If the enforcement of environmental law lags before criminal and administrative courts, things take a completely different direction in civil cases thanks to actions taken by municipalities, associations, protected area managers or departments. .
In terms of environmental management, the state should capitalize on one of its rare successes, namely water management. This system is built around basin committees, which bring together all existing water users in a particular watershed. It mobilized the high-quality scientific data provided by the National Office for Water and Aquatic Environments (Onema), now part of the French biodiversity office, to bring them into dialogue with water agencies to make appropriate choices. with an adaptive management logic that is ecologically effective, socially acceptable and economically viable.
This model offers an alternative to the current trend of centralizing decisions. During the presidency of Emmanuel Macron, the powers of the prefects were constantly strengthened in terms of environmental policy; on the contrary, facilities for public participation have declined. Requirements for environmental impact studies in applications for permission to destroy natural environments are also constantly being reduced. The prefect sees his role strengthened in determining the public utility nature of projects: he can authorize impacts on protected areas, manage environmental permitting procedures and public debate as closely as possible, launch “penalty operations” to evade environmental law, etc.
This situation is increasingly criticised, including by the European Commission, which sees it as a clear conflict of interest. For the French executive, these are measures aimed at making public action more efficient in order to generate growth and employment. However, with the new challenges of reindustrialization and France’s long-achieved quest for food autonomy, environmental commitments will still be revised downwards, and the protection of intensive agriculture will again be a priority.
However, the French government forgets that biodiversity conservation is not only about consulting, engineering, accounting, construction, etc. can also create jobs in sectors.
The reinvention and decentralization of environmental management seems more necessary because civil society does not wait for the state to act, as evidenced by numerous initiatives in the associative world (land activities of associations such as Terre de liens or Conservatoires natural areas). local elected officials (municipal anti-pesticide ordinances), consumers (increased organic and vegetarian consumption), companies (development of environmental accounting) or intermediary bodies (formation of environmental associations).
Regarding the structural lack of resources mentioned above, there are two concrete ways to improve the situation, which will not cost the state a single penny. The first is to redistribute biodiversity-damaging subsidies to agriculture and fisheries to drive ecological transition in these sectors. Thus, several billions can be used to offer a viable future to these economic actors. A second way is to target the world of construction and development by centralizing budgets dedicated to impact studies and prevention, mitigation and compensation (ERC) measures to achieve no net loss of biodiversity. This device is ineffective today, from an economic and ecological point of view, mainly for organizational reasons, but also because, here again, of the prefects who “steal” the system to pass development projects that do not respect the law. To change this, it is necessary to create a financially autonomous and politically independent public institution responsible for collecting and pooling impact research budgets, establishing ecological equivalence criteria, and planning ERC actions to be implemented at a specific ecosystem scale. environmental monitoring methods and land tenure security, etc. Such a device exists in other countries and has demonstrated its effectiveness. Why not apply it in France?
Broadly speaking, in order for the ecological transition of our economic system to return to a certain reality, monitoring of ecological footprints of economic activity, ecological accounting and planning, environmental protection, development of ecological jurisdictions, instructional services, associative structure for biodiversity protection, environmental protection authorities, etc. These investments must be supported by central banks, because biodiversity is first and foremost a public good, and private investment alone cannot be relied upon to guarantee its management, protection and restoration.
Research is beginning to show that, aside from the serious financial implications, the net effects of massive investment policies in biodiversity conservation will be employment benefits. Research firm Dalberg has thus estimated that 39 million jobs could be created if public authorities – globally – agreed to divert €500 billion in subsidies for harmful activities to biodiversity-friendly practices.
This text is taken from the collective work 2030 is tomorrow! Socio-ecological transformation programdirected by Jézabel-Couppey Soubeyran, Mathilde Dupre, Wojtek Kalinowski and Dominique Méda, Les Petits Matins, 2022.