France focuses on rebuilding its cities, industry, and infrastructure in the wake of the two world wars. Economic development, increased agricultural production, and industrial output take precedence over any concern for resource use or environmental damage.
France develops nuclear weapons, triggering controversial tests in the Algerian Sahara desert and the Pacific islands. Nascent concern for natural resource preservation prompts a law establishing national parks. Responding to rapid industrialization, the government passes a water law that includes financial incentives based on the "polluter pays" principle. Enforcement, however, is uncoordinated.
France establishes the Ministry of the Environment to coordinate the work of other ministries. The first environmental community action program surfaces in 1973. France's nuclear energy program, developed for energy independence, becomes a critical component of its environmental protection efforts. France participates in several international conventions on cross-border air and water pollution.
A 1983 law decentralizing responsibility for town planning gives local authorities responsibility for the supply of drinking water, sewage treatment, and land use. The Green movement starts campaigning as a political party. In 1985 French secret service agents sink a Greenpeace ship in New Zealand protesting nuclear testing. The scandal heightens public awareness of environmental issues in France.
The Greens become the fourth political force in France. As part of an international effort, France sets up an inter-ministerial mission to examine the greenhouse effect. An energy policy based on a large-scale nuclear power program enables France to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions drastically. In 1990 the government approves a national plan for the environment.
With the establishment of 26 regional environmental boards, local authorities are responsible for the bulk of public spending on the environment. Several laws are revised to reinforce the role of local authorities. The government establishes an inter-ministerial committee for the environment to promote environmental protection policies within all central government agencies.
France suffers two environmental blows. In December 1999 an oil tanker sinks off the Brittany coast, spilling 90,000 barrels of heavy oil. Environmental damage from the spill is exacerbated by a series of storms that rip through France, destroying 300 million trees and causing major damage to the electricity transmission system. More oil slicks hit in 2002.
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