€1bn plan announced to safeguard under-threat biodiversity in France

The initiative includes the planting of a billion trees and the establishment of more protected areas. Environmental groups say it is not enough

A view of hands holding a tree in some soil to show caring for the environment
The new plan is set to protect nature, including animals, forest areas, coastlines, and water sources
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Under-threat biodiversity in France is set to receive a boost after the government announced a new 40-measure, €1 billion plan to protect it in the years up to 2030.

Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne confirmed the stratégie nationale biodiversité (national biodiversity strategy) from the Ministry for Ecological Transition on November 27, saying that it would “stop the collapse of living things”.

“A quarter of species are at risk of extinction, a quarter of all birds have disappeared in the past 30 years, and a million species of animal and plant could disappear in the decades to come. A mass threat of extinction. It’s a danger for us, for our economy, for our health, and for our food.” she said.

The PM added: “France has a major responsibility” to protect life, especially as the country is home to a tenth of the world’s known species. The overseas territories in particular make up 80% of the country’s overall biodiversity.

Currently, only 6% of the coast is considered to be in a ‘favourable’ condition, while only 45% of water sources are well-maintained and just 18% of forest areas.

The plan is set to be part of France’s commitment to the Kunming-Montréal agreement, which was adopted by the international community at the UN Biodiversity Conference (COP 15) in December 2022. This committed to protecting 30% of the earth and seas, restoring 30% of ecosystems, and reducing pesticide use by half.

Ms Borne said that the plan was important to help “reduce the pressures on biodiversity by promoting sensitive land use, reducing the impact of plant protection products, and combating imported deforestation.

“It is under the same principle: radical results without brutal measures.”

The measures centre on four key areas:

1. Reduce pressure on biodiversity

In its statement, the Ministry for Ecological Transition wrote: "By 2030, 10% of the country will be placed under strong protection.”

The plans include restrictions against artificial development, continued commitment to the reduction of pesticide pollution, halving light pollution and fighting against plastic and underwater noise pollution.

This is despite France's recent controversial abstention on the 10-year re-authorisation of glyphosate in the European Union, which Ecology Minister Christophe Béchu last week called an “environmental step backwards”.

Read more: French minister calls new 10-year glyphosate authorisation ‘stupidity’

2. Restore damaged biodiversity wherever possible

The statement said that the main goals here included “strengthening the resilience of the forest system”, the planting of a billion trees nationwide and reinforcing the protection of endangered species.

3. Involve all relevant bodies

These measures are designed to ensure that not only the government and local authorities, but also businesses, relevant associations and individuals are all involved in the cause.

This will include better support, training, and awareness-raising initiatives at all levels.

4. Guarantee the means to reach these goals

The ministry said that it would pledge at least €1 billion to support these goals. In its statement, it said: “The state will devote more than a billion euros to the protection of nature and water from 2024.”

Junior Minister for Biodiversity, Sarah El Haïry, added that this funding was “a first step towards additional requirements of an estimated €450 million in 2027”.

However, it is not yet clear if this €450 million figure is to be added to the €1 billion, or is included within the total.

The government said the funds would also help it to carry out the first “exhaustive inventory” of the state of national biodiversity, both on mainland France, and in its overseas territories.

“The first exhaustive national census of biodiversity will be carried out by 2027, by strengthening naturalist networks and using new technologies for DNA taken from the environment,” said Mr Béchu.

The measures have been presented to four key national councils: le Conseil national de la biodiversité (biodiversity), le Conseil national de la mer et des littoraux (the sea and coasts), le Conseil national de la protection de la nature (the protection of nature), and le Conseil national de l'eau (water).

Plan ‘open to improvement’

They have not, however, met with unanimous agreement>

In October, the 150-member Conseil national de la biodiversité - which includes scientists, local authorities and NGO representatives - criticised the plan for being “partial and open to improvement”.

Allain Bougrain-Dubourg, head of France’s bird protection group the LPO, said that he wished for more areas to be “given sanctuary status”, to protect birds and other animals. He said: “[For example], it would be incomprehensible if hunting, fishing, wind turbines or solar panel installations were authorised in these areas.”

Maud Lelièvre, President of the French Committee of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), called for the total abolition of harmful public subsidies in the country. She said: “We can no longer afford to spend so much money on activities that destroy nature, which we then have to repair.”

And Jean-David Abel, head of biodiversity at campaign group France Nature Environnement, said that the previous biodiversity plan from 2011 to 2020 “did not significantly reduce” pressures on biodiversity. He added that “10 ecology ministers came and went” during that time.

The director general of WWF France, Véronique Andrieux, also said that the plan did not mention any review of the current politique agricole commune (PAC, common agricultural policy), which “still accounts for 63% of subsidies that damage biodiversity in France”.

This equates to a cost of “€6.5 billion a year”, she said.

Similarly, France has faced opposition for its abstention on the recent EU vote to extend the authorisation of controversial herbicide glyphosate, which has been repeatedly linked to poor health outcomes and a reduction in biodiversity.

Mr Béchu has said that the recent extension will not change anything in France, and that the country would “continue to ban usage of glyphosate and restrict its use”.

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