Paris is one of the most powerful and influential cities in the world. In terms of ecology, the French capital is taking measures to preserve the environment. As a consequence, Paris has become a construction zone.
It is no secret that the environment suffers from our existence. Even if small actions are taken at the individual level, they do not have such an impact as those taken by influential actors such as cities, especially capital cities. Indeed, a lot of them have already taken environmental measures to reduce their impact.
From the city of lights to the green city. Hidalgo has made environmental issues a priority in her campaigns ever since she was first elected in 2014 as the mayor of Paris. Being in charge of a city that is the home of more than two million people, she has made a name for herself with her commitments to climate and controversial policies in the streets of Paris. Her administration revolves around social inclusion, innovation and environmental issues. Hidalgo has big plans for Paris: turning it into a green city.
Paris is undergoing a transformation: the goal is to reorganize the public space in favour of cycling, walking and green spaces, starting with the roads which have been split up to fit more bicycle lanes and trees. To this day, in total, bicycle lanes represent exactly 1,094 km in Paris. Likewise, more than 10,000 bicycle parking spaces have been built, 34,408 trees planted and 321,866 m2 green spaces created since 2014.
The priority of the municipality is to urge Parisians to forsake cars. No excuses! In Paris, bicycles and electric scooters are eligible for financial assistance. Moreover, self-service scooters and vélib, a shared bicycle service, have been developed.
Everything is set to encourage Parisians to abandon their vehicle while maintaining the option of having their proper mode of transportation. But If bicycles are a problem for you, the municipality is also encouraging people to use public transportations. If you reside in Paris and have economic difficulty accessing public transport, different financial aids are available. Also, Hidalgo is responsible for the reorganization of Parisian lines: the creation of 5 new lines, 278 new stopping points, 109 road improvements, to put a station close to everyone. Consequently, a survey was conducted by environmental associations, including Greenpeace, which has pointed out Paris as being the French city with the highest engagement against air pollution caused by transport for the 2014-2019 period.
Hidalgo has not finished yet. The capital created an anti-pollution program called Crit’Air Antipollution. Low emission zones are delimited in Paris to limit the access of specific vehicles: old cars, tour buses, and heavy goods vehicles are restricted between 8 am and 8 pm. The mayor has committed to ban diesel engines by 2025 and to gradually dispose of all combustion-engine cars by 2030. For now, Paris has ordered all gas-powered vehicles entering the city to display a sticker indicating their level of carbon emissions. Step by step, the municipality is taking measures against vehicles. For instance, every first Sunday of each month is car-free in multiple touristic areas. Furthermore, in case of a pollution peak, the city can decide to establish even more restrictions.
In terms of public transportation, Paris is taking more and more decisions to the delight of many – or not.
Indeed, many cyclists feel unsafe in Paris. There are many testimonies of accidents that cyclists have experienced in the city. Associations have been set up to make themselves heard and to plead their cause.
Wide bike lanes in the capital are the first request. More free, covered and secured bicycle garages, everywhere in Paris and close to very busy places such as schools or train stations. Associations are requesting that building owners provide more space for bicycle parking in sheltered yards.
The young generation must be made aware of cycling. The municipality should educate the youth, make them aware of the need to use bicycles more and motorized vehicles less. Added to that, it should provide materials for children, regardless of their social background, as well as supervised cycling activities in schools and leisure centres.
Health professionals should be educated to promote the health benefits of cycling. It is also essential to promote cycling through events dedicated to this practice. The promotion should also be done by setting an example: elected representatives should ride more bikes and not just tell people to do so.
Helping the installation of bicycle shops and repair shops and supporting the training of young people in repair is an excellent way to promote this means of transport. Improve the facilities by consulting the cyclists themselves. Maintain them for maximum safety.
Otherwise, entire neighbourhoods need to be renovated. Buildings that are too old waste too much energy, due to poor insulation. It should be possible to install street lights in neighbourhoods, in pedestrian areas, that light up when people pass by. This would avoid excessive consumption of lighting and would limit light pollution. It is essential to force all the stores to turn off their front lights during the night.
The energy used to heat homes must be « clean ». Different means already exist, using solar, hydraulic and wind energy. Adding wind farms or increasing solar panels on the outskirts of the city would help the environment. Transportation must also run on cleaner energy.
The city is on track with environmental issues, but it is not classified as exemplary. It is not the only city where leaders are putting ecology forward.
Berlin is almost the same size as Paris, and both are capital cities. Comparing their ecological commitment seems interesting. First of all, Germany has committed to the Paris Agreement. One goal of this agreement is to limit global warming to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius. The city of Berlin is already experiencing the effects of global warming: heat waves, floods, storms… To reduce the frequency of these hazardous episodes, the city has decided to take some actions to minimize its ecological impact.
Within the city of Berlin, there are 2,500 parks and gardens which represent 6,400ha of nature. Added to that around eighty trees line each kilometre of the city’s streets which represents 431,000 trees in Berlin’s streets.
The city was a forerunner in establishing a biotope coefficient to maintain biodiversity in the city. A biotope coefficient is an area dedicated to nature in an urban building. It can take the form of a green wall, a grass rooftop or a roof garden. This measure helps carry biodiversity but also participates in making the city more resilient to rising temperatures – but the results are not convincing for now.
As part of the Agenda 30 for Sustainable Development, adopted by the United Nations’ general assembly in 2015, Berlin has committed to respect 17 goals stated in the agenda, among which affordable and clean energy; sustainable cities; responsible consumption and production; climate action. It is encouraging to see that actions are being taken, but some Berliners tend to think that it is just meant to ease politicians’ conscience. As a prime example of the involvement of Germany, Berlin is one of the first federal States to have decided to phase out coal (the biggest polluter fuel) by the year 2030. 2030 is really far from now; in fact, Germany is polluting not only its own air but also France’s and other European countries’ air, affecting residents’ health.
In 2016, 90 cities exceeded the annual limit of 40 micrograms of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) per cubic metre – they were only 6 in 2020. Berliners almost all have a bicycle, only 1 in 3 of them owns a car. The Berlin Senate invested over 30 million euros in the modernization and creation of cycling infrastructures in 2020. The city tends to become one of the most attractive cities for cyclists. By creating the Berlin Mobility Act to improve the efficiency of the transport system, Berlin committed to make car traffic climate-neutral by 2050. Cities are both drivers of the cause of climate change and at the same time most vulnerable to its effects.
This is why actions need to be taken now and be effective as soon as possible.
How can one go further when Hidalgo’s actions are already considered controversial? Questions about the expenses that the projects entail are being raised. Paris is heavily indebted, and it is not getting any better: last September its debt reached 7.7 billion euros. The municipality claims it is mainly due to the pandemic and not to these different projects. Likewise, the COP26 in Glasgow ended on November 12 and is considered a failure. France is also being condemned for its environmental inactions, and politics are not deemed sufficient to overcome deep contradictions and measures in terms of climate. Recognising that it would reduce the impacts of climate change, participating countries committed to keep the rise of global temperature below 2 °C – that was in 2015 with the Paris Climate Agreements. As we know, it wasn’t a success. As the mayor of Paris is now running for presidential office, we may wonder if the measures could be extended to the whole country or if her commitment to ecology is just a political tool. The general public doubts the sincerity of the measures taken by politicians, who are accused of using them as a campaign argument.
Noë LE MENTEC, Lisa CATALANO and Linda SISAVATH
Hidalgo, Anne, et Antoine Leiris. Respirer. Paris : édition de l’o, 2018.