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Cycling, green belt, renovations… How Paris is trying to adapt to climate change

After a summer marked by successive heat waves and a historic drought, the conclusion is clear: Paris is not ready to face the consequences of climate change. Development of cycling, tree planting, debitumization… For several years now, the capital has been multiplying measures to adapt to this new reality. Several voices, especially in the ranks of environmentalists, call for intensified efforts.

For eight years at the head of the Paris City Hall, Anne Hidalgo has never stopped repeating it: “Ecology is the fight of the century” and making the French capital more “green” must be a priority. Because, even if the city did not wait for the socialist mayor to try to limit the effects of climate change – the first climate plan was launched in 2007 under Bertrand Delanoë –, the summer of 2022 showed that it was not not sufficiently prepared. In the paved streets, in the apartments under the roofs, the Parisians suffocated according to the heat waves, with a mercury exceeding several times the 40 ° C.

To carry out this titanic project, the mayor of Paris is betting on her climate plan, the ultimate objective of which is to make the capital carbon neutral by 2050. To do this, no less than 500 measures related to transport, energy, town planning or even food are envisaged.

“This climate plan places Paris among the most active cities in the world on the subject, both on the issue of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and on adapting to the current and future consequences of climate change”, welcomes Vincent Viguié, researcher in economics and environmental sciences at the International Center for Research on Environment and Development (Cired).

One of the flagship projects: to make Paris 100% cycle-friendly “to get out of the dependence on the individual car”. Between 2021 and 2026, 130 km of new cycle paths should thus be created and the “coronapists”, these paths born during confinement, should be made permanent. Added to this are “car-free days”, certain Sundays and public holidays, or the establishment of low-emission zones limited to the least polluting vehicles. By 2050, the municipality also hopes that all Parisians will be supplied with renewable energy.

A green belt on the device

If the Paris City Hall is often hailed, especially abroad, for this ambitious plan, the results are not always up to par. For example, according to a report by the Île-de-France regional chamber of accounts published in May, Parisian energy consumption has only fallen by 5% over the past fifteen years, far from the target 25%.

“Paris was ahead of other cities when it launched its first climate plan. [en 2007, NDLR] but it is falling behind”, deplores Alexandre Florentin, elected from the Génération Écologie group at the Council of Paris. “The climate emergency does not influence city policy enough. It’s good to build cycle paths, but we also have to think about the impact of mass tourism, for example,” he insists.

In recent years, the ecological fight of Anne Hidalgo in Paris has also been the subject of ridicule on several occasions, both on the side of the opposition and in its own ranks. Last controversy to date, in May, when the city councilor announced that he wanted to transform the Paris ring road into a green belt, by planting no less than 70,000 trees and reducing the number of traffic lanes from four to three. A vast construction site for one of the busiest roads in Europe.

The project immediately provoked the ire of the opposition, which believes that the city has become “impassable by car”. But it has also drawn the wrath of environmentalists themselves. In a video posted on social networks, an activist assures that century-old trees will have to be felled to make way for this green belt. “It makes no sense to cut trees to plant others,” laments Alexandre Florentin.

“There is no consensus on the urgency of the situation,” he denounces. “If there was, adapting to climate change would be the number one priority. We wouldn’t be building anything new, but rather adapting to what’s already there.”

Ignoring the controversy, Vincent Viguié, meanwhile, assures that this project could prove to be “very effective”. It even invites us to go further. “I would like these measures to be applied to other municipalities in the Paris region,” explains the researcher. “The city of Paris represents only a small part of the territory. When you look elsewhere, things are very different and the policies for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in transport or buildings, for example, are much less developed.

Keep Paris habitable under 50°C

In addition to the fight against climate change, the summer of 2022, marked by repeated heat waves, highlighted the other aspect of the climate plan, that of adaptation, to keep Paris livable, even below 50 ° C. . With its paved streets, its dense buildings that keep the heat in, the capital is indeed particularly vulnerable.

To lower temperatures, the town hall relies on trees, natural air conditioners. The City thus aims, for example, to green all its schoolyards by 2050 to turn them into “oases”. Exit asphalt, hello trees, plants, eco-responsible games, fountains or vegetable gardens. In total, throughout the capital, 170,000 trees should be planted by 2026.

Improving the thermal insulation of attics or roofs, installing double glazing or blinds… Adapting also necessarily involves renovating the building. “In ten to twenty years, some apartments will be classified as unlivable, at least part of the year,” says Alexandre Florentin. The movement has already been launched for social housing. About 55,000 of them have benefited from investments in work to make them more ecological. According to the elected officials, this will at the same time make it possible to achieve 54% energy savings and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 56%. For the private park, the Town Hall hopes to renovate 40,000 homes per year from 2030.

Faced with this challenge, Alexandre Florentin has taken the lead of an information and assessment mission entitled “Paris at 50°C”, which will be launched in October. This will have to deliver its conclusions in March 2023, after six months of discussions between political figures, climate experts, town planners, associations. Reflections that will then be taken into account in the next climate plan.

“A lot of political figures simply don’t understand that we will be facing many heat waves in the next thirty years. Many people were surprised by what happened this summer, but the scientists had warned us nevertheless”, insists elected environmentalist. “We have to be able to anticipate. As in other cities, the race against time is on.”

This article was adapted from English by Cyrielle Cabot. The original was found here.