Chapter 2. Environmental governance and management

This chapter presents the main French environmental initiatives and examines the framework governing environmental management. In particular, it analyses the co‐ordination mechanisms at the different levels of government and the impact of the reform of territorial organisation. It reviews the policy assessment structures and their effects on the environment, as well as the measures covering regulatory simplification and compliance enforcement. It also looks at the promotion of environmental democracy through access to information, public participation in decision making and access to environmental justice.


1. Institutional framework for sustainable development and environmental management

1.1. Institutional framework for sustainable development

2015 marked a new stage in French environmental policy, with the enactment of the Energy Transition for Green Growth Act (Chapter 4), the adoption of the Paris Agreement by the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP21), the recognition of the Lima-Paris Action Agenda at COP21 and the debate on the draft law on biodiversity (Chapter 5). The previous milestone was the Grenelle Forum in 2007. This consultation process, and the two Acts adopted in its wake in 2009 and 2010,1 reshaped French environmental policy through extensive legislation, ambitious targets, and institutionalised participatory governance. Despite being referred to as a “legal monster” (Petit, 2011), the Grenelle Laws have helped structure the environmental initiatives of business sectors and local authorities by deploying a raft of financial, regulatory and planning instruments. After the Grenelle Forum, the second National Strategy for Sustainable Development, for 2010-13, provided a common architecture structuring all players around a social project. It was nevertheless criticised for not containing a tool for assessing its implementation by private sector actors, and for a sectoral approach with a dilutive effect on priorities (MEDDE, 2013a). The national strategy of ecological transition towards sustainable development (SNTEDD) 2015-20 addresses these criticisms by adopting a new cross-cutting approach and using progress reports to formalise actors’ initiatives. It is used as a basis for drafting the roadmap for the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals adopted by the international community in 2015 under the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Environmental legislation and policy in France is, as in all European Union (EU) countries, largely determined by European law, which governs for example water and waste water, air quality, waste and biodiversity. Even if France has, since 2007, systematically exceeded the average number of infringements of European environmental legislation (European Commission, 2014a), the overall number of cases has declined (European Commission, 2014a). The most common offences concern nitrate contamination of water, urban waste water treatment and air quality (Chapter 1).

1.2. Institutions and environmental governance

France’s environmental strategies and policies are co-ordinated by the Ministry of the Environment, Energy and Marine Affairs (MEEM). It oversees several public-law entities specialised in various fields, and its actions are backed up at the regional and departmental level by specific directorates. The regions, départements and municipalities implement environmental policy at the local level. However, the low level of inter-municipal co‐operation undermines the effectiveness of implementation at the municipal level. The NOTRE Act, under which the French administrative territory will be reorganised, is designed to strengthen this co-operation, thereby making the provision of environmental services more efficient.

The integrating of environmental issues can be seen in France’s approach to its institutions. In 2007, the Ministry of Ecology and Sustainable development was merged with the Ministry of Transport, Infrastructure, Tourism and the Sea, and the Energy branch of the Ministry of Industry, to create the Ministry of Ecology, Sustainable development and Energy (MEDDE, renamed MEEM in 2016). MEEM oversees sustainable development, the environment and green technologies, energy transition and energy, the climate, the prevention of natural and technological risks, industrial safety, transports and transport infrastructures, infrastructure, the sea, with the exception of shipbuilding and ship-repair activities, and the fields of sea fishing and aquaculture. It comprises six theme-based directorates2 and two horizontal structures: the General Commissariat for Sustainable Development (CGDD) and the General Secretariat.

MEEM’s actions are rolled out in the regions by the regional departments for the environment, planning and housing (directions régionales de l’environnement, de l’aménagement et du lodgement – DREAL), created in 2009 by merging the regional directorates of the environment (DIREN), industry (DRIRE) and infrastructure (DRE) in an effort to streamline government agencies. The DREALs and the departmental directorates of territories (DDT), operating under the respective authority of the regional prefect, and the prefect of the département, ensure the continuity of the State in the territories.

MEEM also oversees specialised public-law entities which play an important role in environmental management, notably:3

  • The six Water Agencies,4 each one covering a river basin, which are tasked with preserving water ressources and fighting water pollution. They work with the DREALs on preparing the water development and management master plans (SDAGE).

  • The French National Agency for Water and Aquatic Environments (ONEMA), created in 2007, uses its scientific and technical expertise to support the implementation of water policy. It manages the water information system, checks proper implementation of regulations, monitors water and waste water services and guarantees inter-basin financial solidarity.

  • The Agency for Environment and Energy Management (ADEME), under the joint remit of MEEM and the Ministry of Education, offers expertise and financial support for projects related to energy transition and waste.

  • The Centre for Studies and Expertise on Risks, Environment, Mobility, and Urban and Country planning (CEREMA) was created in 2014 by merging 11 existing technical centres. Operating under the joint authority of MEEM and the Ministry of Housing, Territorial Equality and Rural Affairs, it provides scientific and technical expertise for preparing and reviewing public development and sustainable development policies.

  • The French Agency for Biodiversity (AFB) is provided for in draft legislation on biodiversity. It will unite under one roof ONEMA, the Technical Workshop for Natural Areas, the French Marine Protected Areas Agency and the French National Parks Agency (Chapter 5).

Regional authorities implement various policies and environmental management options at the local level:

  • The regions manage the regional parks, prepare regional climate, air quality and energy plans (SRCAE), regional plans for the prevention and management of hazardous waste, regional schemes for planning and development, infrastructures and transport, and approve the contracting of State-region projects (Section 1.3).

  • The départements are responsible for plans for the prevention and management of non‐hazardous waste5 and building waste, and are involved in water use and management plans.

  • The municipalities prepare the main local urban planning documents, collect and process household waste, and provide water distribution and waste water treatment services. Under the NOTRE Act, they have also been responsible for the management of aquatic environments and flood prevention since 2015 (Chapter 5).

France’s 36 000 municipalities are the smallest regional tier of government. They are responsible for managing household waste and water distribution and waste water treatment services. However, these individual municipal services are too small to generate economies of scale, leading to shortcomings in expertise, knowledge and quality (Cour des comptes, 2015). Inter-municipal co-operation in managing these services is one way of increasing the size of these services and addressing these issues. Inter-municipal co‐operation has been well developed for waste management, but in 2012 there were still 35 000 public water distribution and waste water treatment utilities in France (ONSEA, 2015). The NOTRE Act aims to strengthen inter-municipal co-operation by scaling up inter-municipal bodies to a minimum of 15 000 inhabitants and transferring responsibility for water distribution and waste water treatment to them by 2020. This can be compared against the situation in 2012, when a drinking water service supplied on average 4 700 users, compared to 3 100 for a collective waste water treatment service and 2 900 for a non-collective waste water treatment service (ONSEA, 2015). This reform is expected to improve the efficiency of water distribution and waste water treatment services.

1.3. Co-ordination mechanisms

France has made progress in terms of co-ordination at the national level. The creation of MEDDE aligned environmental issues with energy, transport and infrastructure challenges, and the creation of CGDD in 2008 formalised inter-ministerial co-ordination on the subject. The “five-party governance” system established by the Grenelle Forum (Section 4.1) also created a process which brings together actors including the State and elected representatives to determine the future direction of environmental policies. However, there are still shortcomings in co-ordination between subnational authorities (regions, départements, municipalities). Despite launching a decentralisation process in 1982, the State remains very present in the regions through its decentralised services under the responsibility of the prefects. The linkage between State services and regional services is exceedingly complex, with numerous inconsistencies and duplications of competencies, and the State’s management is insufficient (Cour des comptes, 2013a). There are also deficiencies in financial co-ordination between the State and the regions (Cour des comptes, 2014).

While the creation of a large environment ministry – MEDDE – in 2007 has given it considerable influence within the government, it has not resolved the problem of inter-ministerial co-operation with other, traditionally more dominant, ministries (MEDDE, 2013b). On the one hand, the decision to combine the environment with some relevant sectors, notably energy and infrastructure, but not others, such as health and agriculture, may have weakened links with the ministries responsible for the latter (MEDDE, 2013b). On the other hand, the merger of infrastructure and the environment means that arbitrage between the two sectors now takes place within the confines of the ministry, whereas previously it was carried out at the level of the Prime Minister (Bettina, 2010).6 The result is less transparency over this delicate balancing act and a tendency towards ensuring that infrastructure policies retain priority (Lepage, 2008). Lastly, the legitimacy of the environment ministry has been undermined in recent years by frequent restructuring. Some institutional stability, at least in the medium term, would be welcome (MEDDE, 2013b).

Inter-ministerial co-operation is also ensured by specific bodies. CGDD is the inter-ministerial delegate for sustainable development, which allows it to lead and co-ordinate administrations’ sustainable development initiatives. As inter-ministerial delegate, CGDD chairs the committee of senior officials for sustainable development (HFDD), which meets every two months. Each minister appoints an HFDD to prepare their administration’s contribution to the national strategy for sustainable development.

Despite these efforts to develop inter-ministerial co-operation, the State’s regional organisation is still beset by significant coherence and co-ordination issues. This has affected overall governance, resulting in inefficient linkage between different administrative levels and a proliferation of strategies and objectives (Cour des comptes, 2013a; Kamal-Chaoui and Plouin, 2012). The State’s regional reorganisation process is designed to streamline and clarify governance, including the environment (Box 2.1). There are two problems when it comes to co-ordinating the different administrations. Firstly, the instructions given by the State to its decentralised services suffer from insufficient prioritisation of their content. Secondly, the links between the decentralised services and the regional services of the national agencies are not strong enough. In particular, the link between the territorial initiatives of ADEME’s regional state services and the DREALs is not clear. ADEME and its regional directorates were created at a time when the ministry of the environment did not have its own decentralised services. As a result, ADEME’s regional directorates worked closely with regional councils and, since then, have been considered by prefects as separate from the State’s central services. The creation of the DREALs in 2009 provided the State with decentralised services under the authority of the prefects, raising the question of the coexistence, at the regional level, of the decentralised services of two national environmental bodies. Even if there is a partial difference between the missions of ADEME and the DREALs, the 2009 triennial agreement did not manage to clarify their respective roles and their organisation on the ground.

Box 2.1. The modernisation of regional organisation in France

The reform launched in 2013 in France under the name Acte III de la décentralisation, is based around three Acts designed to clarify the multiple layers of French subnational administration (often referred to as a millefeuille) and to simplify planning documents, thereby helping to streamline environmental governance:

  • The MAPAM Act on the modernisation of territorial public action and on the strengthening of cities (loi de modernisation de l’action publique territoriale et d’affirmation des métropoles) clarifies the powers of local authorities in areas where there are several layers of subnational intervention by creating “leaders” (chefs de file). In this way, the region is responsible for work on economic development, the organisation of public transport, and biodiversity. The départements oversee social initiatives, digital development and regional solidarity. Lastly, the municipalities and associations of municipalities, with powers over the organisation of urban transport, have additional powers oversustainable mobility (cycling, walking, car-pooling, car-sharing, freight transport and urban logistics).

  • The Act on the delineation of the regions (loi relative à la délimitation des regions) is designed to generate economies of scale and foster standardisation by reducing the number of regions in mainland France to 13 as of 1 January 2016. The merging of regions does not lead to a reduction in their powers or resources.

  • The NOTRE Act on the new territorial organisation of the French Republic (loi portant nouvelle organisation territoriale de la République) clarifies powers and simplifies land use planning systems. It confirms the abolition of the general competence clause for regions and départements, planned for 2010, which created an overlap in planning issues, and strengthens the role of regions in this area. In order to simplify planning documents at this level, the regions will prepare a regional plan for planning, sustainable development and equality between regions (schéma régional d’aménagement, de développement durable et d’égalité des territoire - SRADDET) containing medium- and long-term objectives in areas such as transport, energy, climate change, air pollution, biodiversity and waste management. The plans merge existing plans in these fields, such as the Regional climate, air quality and energy plans (SRCAE). Sub-regional planning documents, including urban transport plans and charters of regional natural parks, will have to respect the guidelines fixed by the plans. Another example of streamlining is a regional plan for waste prevention and management which will merge three previous plans governing waste at departmental and regional level.

Source: French Republic (2014), Loi nº 2014-58 du 27 janvier 2014 de modernisation de l’action publique territoriale et d’affirmation des métropoles; French Republic (2015), Loi nº 2015-29 du 16 janvier 2015 relative à la délimitation des régions, aux élections régionales et départementales et modifiant le calendrier électoral; French Republic (2015) Loi nº 2015-991 du 7 août 2015 portant nouvelle organisation territoriale de la République.

The co-ordination and distribution of funds between the State and local authorities could be improved (Cour des comptes, 2014; Kamal-Chaoui and Plouin, 2012). Planning contracts between the central and regional governments (CPER) are the main mechanisms for financial co-ordination. They also include contributions from other subnational authorities, and European funds (Kamal-Chaoui and Plouin, 2012). For 2007-13, ecology was ranked third in terms of the funding allocated for contracts, behind transport and higher education (Cour des comptes, 2014). The energy transition to green growth is the second-ranked priority for the current period (2015-2020) behind multimodal mobility (CGET, 2016). The CPER have been criticised on several occasions for their lack of strategic guidelines and clear objectives, which make the programmes difficult to understand (Cour des Comptes, 2014; OECD, 2006). The upstream intervention by the French Parliament to establish the CPER strategies for implementation may resolve this issue (Cour des comptes, 2014). In the ecology sector, the Cour des comptes noted some window-dressing, in that some projects would have been launched with or without a CPER, especially initiatives by Water Agencies, which raises questions as to the efficiency with which these resources are used. Nonetheless, MEDDE has acknowledged the usefulness of the framework created by the CPER in providing a regular platform for dialogue between the State and the regions (Cour des comptes, 2014). Outside the CPER, only limited financial resources are allocated to local authorities, thereby reducing their scope of action (Kamal-Chaoui and Plouin, 2012). Local authorities should receive financial support from the State under its decentralisation programme in order to help them accommodate their increased responsibilities.

2. Environmental assessment

There are a multitude of structures in France providing assessment of public policies. The overall quality of assessments is good, and the diversity of approaches is complementary (in terms of method, granularity, access to information and commitment of stakeholders). However, there is still a lack of co-ordination between the structures and no overall summary of their findings, which makes their main conclusions difficult to understand and exploit, and also leads to resources being wasted. There is also insufficient communication on the importance of assessment and on the results of the different assessments. There is a lack of awareness among the general public and politicians, meaning that proper account is not taken of the findings of assessments in policy making. In order to strengthen the position of assessment, it seems essential to further develop training, make better provision for assessment at the start of processes, and to provide the financial and human resources necessary for carrying out a good-quality assessment with results available before policies have to be decided (Mansouri-Guilani, 2015; Chauffaut, 2014).

Over the review period, France has carried out reforms to facilitate the transposition of European directives on the assessment of plans, programmes and projects. However, some aspects of these reforms remain poorly understood or have made processes more complex, and the differences between European directives and French law continue to create difficulties (AE, 2015). The link between strategic environmental assessments and impact assessments is not as clearly defined as in the other European Union countries (AE, 2015; Vernier, 2015). Recent public reports, and the Law for Growth, Activity and Equality of Opportunities (Law No. 2015-990 of 6 August 2015, known as the Macron Act), suggest ways of streamlining processes and strengthening public involvement (Duport, 2015; Vernier, 2015; CNTE, 2015).

2.1. Assessment institutions

There is no shortage of institutions in France carrying out evaluations of public policy. The Cour des comptes, created in 1807, is the main body assessing public action. Under the French Constitution, it was originally charged with ensuring the proper usage of public funds, before receiving a specific mandate foe assessment in 2008.7 For the purposes of assessment, the French parliament has six permanent commissions per assembly, each with authority in a specific area, and it can also call for the mobilisation of a special commission to examine a particular text. For example, the Energy Transition for Green Growth Act was examined by a special commission. The National Assembly also plays a role in assessing public action. Its authority in terms of assessment was strengthened in 2009 with the creation of the Commission for the Assessment and Monitoring of Public Policies (CEC). The Economic, Social and Environmental Council (CESE), also at the level of the French assembly, has dual competencies covering the foresight and assessment of public policies (Mansouri-Guilani, 2015). France Stratégie, which reports to the Prime Minister, is another institution with an important role in assessing public initiatives. Within MEEM, the General Council for Environment and Sustainable Development (CGEDD), created in 2008, carries out expertise and consulting missions for the government, as well as acting as a general inspector of the effectiveness of the services implemented by MEEM. The ADEME also carries out evaluations of environmental issues. The other major actors in public assessment are researchers and academics, private consulting forms, and employers’ and employees’ organisations. Better co-ordination of these bodies is vital in order to streamline resources and send a clear message on the performance of public policies to the decision makers.

In 2013, in order to evaluate all of France’s public policies, the Inter-ministerial Committee for the Modernisation of Public Policy, created in 2012 and placed under the authority of the Prime Minister, ordered an assessment of 40 public policies, including four concerning the environment.8 In 2014, a new cycle was launched covering the assessment of 12 policies, including only one environmental policy.9 The assessments are mainly carried out by the services of the ministries in question, which seek to involve the relevant parties. The publication of assessment reports must be followed by a list of decisions taken by the government to take into account the conclusions, thereby ensuring greater acknowledgement of the assessment.

2.2. Indicators for assessing environmental progress

France has made a concerted effort to integrate environmental issues into the national accounts and better incorporate them into the highest levels of government decision making. The report by the Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress (2009) recommended using dashboards of indicators rather than a single summary indicator, giving more weight to sustainability indicators, and applying physical indicators for environmental themes. The national sustainable development strategy, and the French Marine Protected Areas Agency respect these recommendations as they both use dashboards for monitoring indicators. Moreover, under the Law providing for new wealth indicators to be taken into account in the framing of public policies (Law No. 2015-411 of 13 April 2015), the principal reforms undertaken, especially in the framework of the French budget Act, have to be evaluated according to indicators of inequality, quality of life and sustainable development.

France has been a forerunner in developing indicators derived from environmental accounting. Accordingly, the SOeS statistical service uses not only numerous annual series of environmentally-related data, such as expenditure on environmental protection and pollution emissions by business activity, but has also developed new indicators expressing carbon footprints, the consumption and productivity of materials, and water footprints (CGDD, 2011).

However, using indicators to monitor environmental policies is not an entirely satisfactory solution, as the follow-up of objectives set in laws is sometimes based on indicators of the means used rather than the results, which makes it difficult to assess their impact and effectiveness (Crosmarie, 2012). For example, one of the aims of the Grenelle II Law is to reduce energy consumption in existing buildings by at least 38% by 2020. However, the follow-up indicators focus on the number of eco-loans granted and the sustainable development tax credit rather than the energy savings generated by these measures. Moreover, some targets are fixed without ensuring sustainable financial support for their realisation. In 2011, for example, barely 10% of the energy performance plan for farms was fulfilled, despite it being due to end in 2013 under the terms of the Grenelle Law, and this was mainly due to a reduction by nearly two-thirds of the funds allocated to the plan between 2009 and 2011 (Cour des comptes, 2013b). This type of failing can be caused by setting too many objectives without ensuring that the necessary resources are available.

2.3. Strategic Environmental Assessments

In 2012, France issued two government decrees (No. 2012-616 and No. 2012-995) to improve the transposition into law of the EU’s SEA (Strategic Environmental Assessment) Directive 2001/42/EC concerning the environmental assessment of some plans and programmes, with mixed results. One defined 43 types of plans and programmes that should systematically undergo assessment, and 10 other types for case-by-case decisions by the relevant authority on whether to assess or not, with the aim of dispensing with the cumbersome process of an SEA should it not be deemed necessary. The other stipulated similar arrangements for urban planning documents. While these reforms clarify when an SEA should be carried out, the European Commission considers that there remain unjustified exemptions from the obligation to perform an assessment (European Commission, 2015). Introducing the case-by-case examination, moreover, has complicated the job of devolved government departments in the approval and transmission of urban planning documents, for example. In fact, the DREALs point out that those involved with urban planning documents are not very well aware of this reform, and the environmental authority is often approached late as a result, leading to extra bureaucracy, while project managers on plans and programmes with a positive impact on the environment, such as sanitation zoning, do not clearly understand the usefulness of the SEAs, suggesting a need for improved training and communication about these reforms (CGDD, 2014a).

Since 2009, the European Commission has been drawing attention to the lack of functional separation between environmental and decision-making authorities that is undermining the independence of SEAs in France (European Commission, 2015). That year saw the creation of the environmental authority, the CGEDD, which helped to implement the principle of independent assessment required under European law. But for plans and programmes belonging to local authorities, the prefect of the département or region holds both environmental and administrative responsibility. Although the European Court of Justice recognises that organic separation is not essential to ensure the assessment’s independence (Seaport judgment of 20 October 2011), the French Council of State, when asked by an environmental non-governmental organisation (NGO) to rule on the legality of decree No. 2012-616, made the same criticism as the European Commission, observing that France does not ensure the functional independence of the environmental authority responsible for expressing an opinion on plans and programmes (Council of State, 2015; Gossement, 2015). This decision could have serious repercussions: plans and programmes in 30 of the 43 categories that should undergo systematic assessment and in four of the 10 categories examined case by case could be declared illegal. This step could jeopardise the protection of the environment provided by these plans and programmes, however, and create a legal vacuum. The Council of State has therefore applied to the European Court of Justice for its opinion on how best to proceed (Gossement, 2015). The publication of a decree ensuring the independence of the environmental authority has now become urgent.

2.4. Environmental impact assessments

In 2011, France reformed its environmental impact assessments (EIA) in order to strengthen this tool and increase its effectiveness (decree No. 2011-2019). The definition of the scope of its application was changed from financial criteria of the project’s size to sector-specific categories with technical thresholds. The decree also stipulated the mandatory presentation of alternative solutions as well as measures for the mitigation and compensation of negative environmental impact. The monitoring of the implementation of these measures has also become obligatory, with tighter links to the permitting process. However, Directive 2011/92/EU concerning the assessment of the environmental impact of some public and private projects and its amendment in 2014 (2014/52/EU) have yet to be enacted, which will happen under the Macron Act. The introduction of a safety net that would automatically trigger an EIA if the environment is particularly fragile, even below the stipulated thresholds, is one of the suggestions that would allow France to meet its EU obligations (Vernier, 2015).

The introduction of case-by-case examination in 2010 may have complicated the assessment of plans and programmes (Section 2.3), but in the case of projects it also improved the quality of submissions by contractors and engineers. The reform also encouraged a more pragmatic approach to the role of the EIA by the DREALs’ environmental assessment units. This simplification has therefore led to a reduction in EIAs and a relaxing of requirements (CGDD, 2014a).

Despite this progress, the effectiveness of EIAs could be improved still further by adopting the single project EIA and moving closer to the spirit of the EU Directives. The French approach of carrying out an EIA per procedure currently results in projects having several EIAs, adding to cost and complexity: every assessment takes between six months and a year and can cost up to half a million euros. This also breaks the project up, depriving the contractor, environmental authority and the public of a comprehensive view of the whole and of its potential impacts (Duport, 2015; Vernier, 2015). The CGEDD’s environmental authority has also noted difficulties arising from the gap between the EU legal texts and their enactment into French law (AE, 2015). The French concept “programme de travaux”, for example, has no equivalent in the EU Directive, which led the working group on the modernisation of environment law set up in 2015 to suggest it be abandoned in favour of the definitions used in the EU Directive (Vernier, 2015).

Co-ordinating the EIAs and the SEAs is also problematic. It can, for example, render the environmental assessment unsatisfactory. If a programme is subject to an SEA, it is not always necessary to examine every project included with an EIA, and if this is the case, the measures necessary to prevent environmental impacts can be poorly defined, with impacts not being taken into account (AE, 2015). The experience of other EU Member States shows that there is substantial room to improve co-ordination and consistency (AE, 2015). The CGDD has also identified poor co-ordination between planning and environment law, with the result that some planning documents have to be assessed twice (CGDD, 2014a). The Macron Act has optimised the government’s co-ordination of EIAs and SEAs.

3. Regulation, compliance and enforcement

3.1. Environmental permitting

Regulated community

Classified installations10 are divided into three categories in accordance with the principal regulatory regimes they are subject to: those requiring a permit, those that may obtain a simplified registration – both are issued by the prefect – and those that must submit a declaration to the prefect before starting operations. Non-classified installations – those which are below the regulatory thresholds for declaration requirements – are not regulated environmentally by the MEEM. They are subject to local rules defined by municipalities. Non-point pollution sources are regulated by MEEM by environmental media, and the Ministry’s separate directorate is responsible for transport issues.

At the end of 2013, there were about 500 000 “classified” installations in France, including 450 000 declared installations, 3 120 installations subject to registration, and 41 400 facilities comprising at least one installation subject to permitting. The latter comprise 6 500 facilities that are subject to the EU’s Industrial Emissions Directive (2010/75/EU), including 3 200 livestock farms, 14 400 non-IED farms and 4 000 quarries. There are around 1 200 high-risk industrial installations regulated by the so-called Seveso III Directive of the EU (2012/18/EU).

Permitted installations

In France, permitting has been integrated across the environmental media since the adoption and subsequent implementation of the 1976 Law on Classified Installations, 20 years ahead of the EU Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control Directive (IPPC, 2008/1/EC). A permit is issued by the prefect in a form of an order (arrêté) based on a proposal from an inspection service and is valid for an unlimited time period (except for quarries and landfills). However, permits must be reviewed every 10 years, and the operator must notify the prefect of any significant operational changes which may require submission of a new permit application.

A permit application must contain an environmental impact assessment (étude d’impact) and a hazard study (étude des dangers). The latter focuses on the risks the installation would pose in case of an accident and justifies proposed mitigation measures.

A permit is prepared by an inspector following a consultation process with statutory stakeholders, the public and NGOs (a public inquiry through comments or public hearings).

Registered installations

In 2009, France introduced a new environmental regulatory regime – registration (essentially, a simplified permitting regime) – for installations that present risk significant enough to justify its prior evaluation but that can be addressed through standardised regulatory requirements. The implementation of this regime is in line with the trend of risk-based diversification of regulatory requirements that is evident in many OECD Member countries. It applies to specific activity sectors (e.g. warehouses, petrol stations, drycleaners, small distilleries), with activity volume thresholds stipulated where necessary. The list of eligible sectors, mostly composed of SMEs, is bound to be expanded in the future.

The introduction of the registration regime was the result of a gap between the administrative formality of a declaration and the extremely rigorous process of authorisation (permitting). The registration still requires the submission of an application and a simplified public consultation, but it has reduced the number of required technical studies associated with the application, increased the predictability of the requirements (sector-specific technical regulations are being gradually developed) and reduced the application processing time (to a maximum of seven months compared to one year for a full authorisation). Importantly, an application for registration does not require an environmental impact assessment (EIA).

At the end of 2014, 35% of installations previously covered by permitting requirements were supposed to be transferred to the registration regime. As of early 2015, this figure stood at 28%. The target, now postponed until 2017, was not attained due to the challenges of identifying categories of installations appropriate for a simplified permitting regime and the slow development of new sector-specific technical requirements.

Declared installations

Declared installations are subject to general binding rules that are laid out in standardised ministerial orders (arrêtés-types). These requirements are attached to the formal acknowledgement of receipt of a declaration which is sent by the prefect to the operator. In some cases, they may be made more stringent by an order of the prefect to reflect local conditions. However, the inspection services do not usually have an opportunity to review a declaration or recommend to reject it. There is a supplementary regulatory regime of “declaration with control”, which includes regular inspections of some installations.

Regulatory integration and reduction of the administrative burden

The 2014-2017 Strategic Inspection Programme (MEDDE, 2014) establishes as one of its principal priorities the simplification of administrative procedures. In May 2014, several regions in France (including Champagne-Ardenne, Franche-Comté, Rhône-Alpes and l’Île‐de-France) started a three-year experiment with a single environmental protection permit. It integrates the traditional environmental permit with the construction permit, the land clearance permit, the energy permit, and the protected species waiver, etc. Since August 2015, the Macron Act allows the government to use an ordinance to extend the single permit to the entire country.

The Strategic Inspection Programme envisages other measures of regulatory simplification in accordance with the principle of proportionate regulation. In particular, a further transfer of regulated installations from the permitting to the registration regime to reach by the end of 2017 the above-mentioned 35% target for the number of “transferred” installations. A particular emphasis is being placed on the development of standard, sector-specific technical regulations as well as on the shortening of the permit determination procedure.

3.2. Environmental inspections

Compliance monitoring instruments

The French inspection services distinguish announced (at least 48 hours in advance) and unannounced; targeted and general; rapid, routine and in-depth; and planned and complaint/accident-triggered inspections. Inspections are usually conducted by a generalist field inspector, although in some DREALs he/she is often accompanied by a specialist from the regional office. While the total annual number of site visits has decreased by 23% since 2006, the number of in-depth inspections has increased (Figure 2.1). This is likely due to the redistribution of compliance monitoring resources towards more complex and environmentally risky installations.

Figure 2.1. The number of in-depth inspections has increased

There is a clear trend towards quasi-total standardisation of methods and tools for inspectors’ activities. The DGPR issues a Methodology of Inspection Visits which covers the preparation of a site visit, activities during the visit, and the reporting phase, and provides key document templates. Every inspector is issued a handbook containing all essential procedural guidance, document templates, and supporting information. In addition, most inspection services have issued their own procedures for inspection visits and response to accidents.

The inspection services use several activity-based (output) indicators for their performance measurement, but generally (with the exception of the indicator of the number of accidents) do not measure outcomes in terms of the knowledge and behaviour of the regulated community. As a result, compliance monitoring strategies are not sufficiently linked to results on the ground.

Targeting of compliance monitoring activities

The inspection regime covers all permitted and registered installations. Declared installations are not systematically included in inspection planning and are not inspected unless there is an accident or a complaint. However, they may be affected by targeted inspection campaigns initiated by MEEM. Unannounced inspections constitute 10% of the annual total of inspections of permitted installations – they are used mostly to take samples and verify the accuracy of self-monitoring data. Each inspection service develops a multi-annual inspection programme and an annual inspection plan and submits it to the DGPR for approval (Box 2.2).

Box 2.2. Risk-based inspection planning and targeting

The average inspection frequency for permitted facilities is currently about once in four years. “National priority” facilities (there are about 2 000) are inspected at least once a year. They include:

  • “High threshold” Seveso installations;

  • Waste storage, treatment and disposal installations with capacity above 20 000 tonnes per year for hazardous waste and 40 000 tonnes per year for municipal solid waste;

  • Installations with significant pollution releases (most of them are IED installations);

  • Installations which carry out spreading of waste or effluent-origin material (e.g. sludge) on agricultural land.

There is also an annually updated list of about 8 000 “high-stake” (or regional priority) facilities which are inspected once every three years, including all those subject to European legislation, in particular IED facilities that are not part of the national priority list. “High-stake” facilities are determined regionally based on national criteria. All other permitted installations should be inspected at least once every seven years.

In addition to the national requirements for inspections, there is a set of risk-based criteria which must be taken into account in the annual inspection programme. The risk-based criteria are essentially related to the importance (complexity of operations and sensitivity of the surrounding environment) and the compliance record of an installation. The existence of an environmental management system and proactive response to local community complaints are considered to be attenuating factors whereas the occurrence of major accidents over the previous four years is an aggravating factor. The national guidance on inspection planning provides specific recommendations on using these criteria.

Source: Medde (2015), Inspection des installations classées (web site),

The 2015 evaluation report on compliance assurance practices pointed out only partial consideration of risk in inspection planning and the lack of attention to management and operational factors. In an effort to address this gap, the strategic investment plan for 2014-17 envisages further refining of the targeting criteria to take account of an installation’s location, vulnerability of the surrounding environment, and the operator’s compliance record.

3.3. Enforcement tools

MEEM/DGPR has developed guidance for non-compliance response actions to be initiated by the relevant inspection services. It makes the non-compliance response commensurate to the operator’s compliance record. For example, where a generally compliant operator may get compliance prescriptions taking into account the operator’s financial abilities and have its permit conditions modified, an operator with a history of minor violations may face administrative sanctions, and a recalcitrant violator may be temporarily shut down and face criminal charges.

Administrative enforcement

Administrative actions are taken by the prefect and are independent of any possible criminal enforcement actions that may be taken by a prosecutor. Initially, on recommendation of an inspection service, the prefect serves upon the offender a compliance notice (mise en demeure) specifying measures to take and a deadline. The compliance notice is not a sanction, but it forms a legal basis for using formal enforcement tools (Box 2.3).

Box 2.3. Administrative enforcement tools

Compliance with formal notices is verified by an inspection service. If the operator does not return to compliance within the timeframe indicated in the compliance notice, the prefect may use, successively or simultaneously, the following administrative enforcement tools:

  • Order of a deposit (consignation) of a sum of money with a public accounting office as a guarantee against completion of the prescribed corrective action. The amount to be deposited is equal to, or slightly exceeds, the estimate of costs of the corrective action (there is no particular guidance on how to estimate these costs). The deposit is reimbursed (often in stages) upon verification of compliance or, in exceptional cases, applied toward the cost of corrective action if the latter is undertaken by the state. Guarantee deposits are the most used administrative sanction, even though the procedure for using them is rather long and complex.

  • Corrective action order allowing the state to undertake specific measures prescribed by the inspection service at the operator’s expense. This type of action is used very rarely, in cases where the operator fails to take action under the deposit procedure, as the state is reluctant to take responsibility for the corrective action.

  • Order of temporary closure of the installation or suspension of its permit and measures to prevent further environmental degradation during the suspension period.

A prefect may order definitive closure of an installation operating without a required permit or declaration or if the permit application is rejected. A permit may also be revoked in the interest of public safety or if the operator refuses to follow prescribed corrective actions. If the operator refuses to obey a temporary or definitive closure order, the prefect may order to have the installation sealed.

Ordinance No. 2012-34 of 11 January 2012 streamlined the procedure for the implementation of administrative sanctions and reinforced the use of fixed per-offence and daily administrative fines. Such fines, previously applicable to waste-related violations only, can now be imposed for any minor offence. However, procedures and guidance for their use by inspection services have not yet been developed.

Source: Medde (2015), Inspection des installations classées (web site),

In recent years, there has been a declining trend in the number of formal administrative enforcement actions (Figure 2.2), which may be explained by the decrease of the number of inspections (Figure 2.1). A little over 10% of all inspections result in the issuance of a compliance notice, a figure that has not changed over the last decade, which shows that the rate of discovery of offences has not improved. This indicates a potential for improving the targeting of inspections based on the compliance record of regulated installations.

Figure 2.2. Approximately 10% of all inspections result in the issuance of a compliance notice

Compliance files for national priority facilities are available on the Internet. In addition, the online ARIA (Analysis, Research and Information on Accidents) database contains information about over 30 000 industrial accidents.

Criminal enforcement

Minor offences (such as non-compliance with a formal notice, failure to notify the prefect of a significant change in operations or to submit a declaration) are dealt with by tribunaux de police which can impose a fine per offence or a daily fine. Misdemeanours are punishable by higher fines (up to EUR 750 000 for legal entities) or even imprisonment for physical persons. A judge may also ban the operator from running the installation either temporarily (for up to five years) or permanently. No violation is considered a crime under French environmental statutes.

Although the stringency of criminal penalties has increased over the years and the number of prosecution submissions is growing, actual criminal penalties are seldom applied. The prosecutor decides whether to file the case in court (and is only required to pursue the case if it involves civil responsibility vis-à-vis a private party). Despite the fact that the Ministry of Justice delivered guidance to prosecutors and courts on the “Directions of Penalty Policies in Environmental Matters” in 2005, environmental cases are still low priority for prosecutors.

3.4. Environmental liability

Before 2008, the French legislation addressed only “traditional” civil liability, i.e. damage to human health or private economic interests. This liability is generally fault-based if the responsible party is a physical person, and strict (irrespective of fault) with regard to legal entities.11 A civil judge can also order reimbursement of government costs incurred in response to a violation (e.g. in response to an accident).

In 2008, an Environmental Liability law was adopted to transpose the EU Environmental Liability Directive (2004/35/EC). It addresses damage to water, biological species and natural habitats, and land, if its contamination threatens human health. All “classified” installations are subject to strict liability for damage to the environment. A court can issue an injunction for the remediation of environmental damage within a set timeframe either by the operator or by the government agency at the operator’s expense. However, the Environmental Liability Law does not specify procedures or methodologies for environmental remediation, making it difficult to apply its provisions in practice.

In February 2015, the Ministry of Justice announced its intention to present a draft law to strengthen the environmental damage remediation provisions of the Civil Code. In particular, this draft law would give precedence to “in-kind” environmental remediation (i.e. the restoration of the damaged ecosystem) by the responsible party, allowing monetary compensation only if such remediation is impossible. It would define the procedure for remediating environmental damage using specific methodologies (e.g. the equivalency analysis). It would also give courts a right to impose civil fines if the damage was intentional and resulted in an economic benefit for the responsible party (Hopquin, 2015). This reform would be a huge step forward in shifting the system of environmental liability towards preserving ecosystems.

3.5. Promotion of compliance and green practices

Information dissemination to the regulated community

The DGPR does not have a formal compliance assistance programme but encourages the inspection services to regularly provide information on forthcoming requirements and inspection activities to the regulated community through different types of meetings. However, there is only a very limited audience for this form of communication.

It is primarily business associations which disseminate information on environmental regulatory requirements. For example, the Enviroveille “regulatory watch” fee-based subscription service, which is managed by the French Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CCI France), sends regular e-mail updates and maintains a dedicated website on relevant legislative developments and new applicable regulatory requirements.

Environmental management systems and sector-specific green certifications

Since the last environmental review of France, the number of French companies with environmental management systems (EMSs) certified according to the ISO 14001 standard has risen dramatically: the number of certificates issued annually rose from 3 300 in 2005 to over 7 900 in 2013 (Figure 2.3). The main driver for this growth has been domestic and international market demand, although the regulatory incentive in the form of a reduced frequency of inspections might also have had its effect.

Figure 2.3. A sharp increase in the number of ISO 14001 EMS certificates

France has been one of the champions in promoting simplified EMSs to SMEs. CCI France has designed, with substantial technical, methodological and financial assistance from the public Agency for Environment and Energy Management (ADEME), two “EMS-light” schemes that allow SMEs to get recognition for less ambitious, but still valuable improvements in their environmental management. The “1.2.3 Environnement” programme (Box 2.4) is designed to facilitate step-by-step ISO 14001 certification. EnVol is special environmental management programme for small businesses (with less than 50 employees) that do not aspire to fully fledged ISO 14001 certification but would like to get recognition for their basic EMS, which roughly corresponds to the first level of “1.2.3 Environnement”.

Box 2.4. Simplified EMS in France: 1.2.3. Environnement

1.2.3. Environnement provides SMEs with a possibility to acquire three levels of an EMS. CCI France, in partnership with several French companies and public organisations, and supported by the French Ministry of the Environment and ADEME, use 1.2.3 Environnement to assist enterprises in implementing an EMS. Similarly to other simplified EMSs, this scheme allows an enterprise to choose to comply with a level it desires.

415 companies have been involved in the implementation of 1.2.3 Environnement since 2007. The regional CCI provide a consultant dedicated to helping SMEs in the establishment of an 1.2.3 Environnement scheme. Additionally, business associations and NGOs are helping the enterprise throughout the process. At least seven companies in France, accredited by ACFCI, are offering this certification. The applying enterprises are certified with one of the three levels after an external audit by one of these certification bodies is conducted. The certification is valid for a three-year period with an annual verification audit.

Source: French Chamber of Commerce and Industry (2015), 123 Environnement (web site),

Business greening programmes in France usually benefit from support from more than one funding source, which provides for their greater sustainability. For example, the regional Performance Bretagne Environnement Plus (PBE+) programme in France has been funded jointly by the Regional Council, the central government, business organisations and individual large companies (Peugeot Citroën, EDF and Gaz de France), and a grant from the European Commission. This has allowed it to provide environmental information, guidance and technical assistance to businesses since 1994 (Chambre de commerce et d’industrie de Bretagne, 2015).

Government authorities work jointly with trade bodies to produce “green standards” for the sector as well as guidelines on how businesses, mainly SMEs, may “earn” the right to display appropriate signs (stickers, posters, etc.) to highlight their environmental practices to their customers.

France has been running such a programme for print shops since 1998. Created by a regional Chamber of Trade and Crafts and later rolled out nationwide, the Imprim’Vert label has been awarded to over 1 950 print shops that adhere to a set of good environmental practices such as not using toxic products and secure storage and appropriate disposal of waste (Imprim’Vert, 2015). However, environmental compliance is not among the label award criteria.

Voluntary economic sector initiatives

In 2008, following the Grenelle Forum, a framework was put in place for voluntary covenants (conventions d’engagement volontaire) – partnerships between industrial sectors and the government to promote and disseminate green practices. Such covenants, building on best practices in other OECD Member countries such as the Netherlands, can be either thematic (focusing on resource efficiency, waste minimisation, climate change mitigation, etc.) or multi-thematic. They are initiated by trade associations, include ambitious quantitative targets agreed with the environment ministry, and cover a period of 3-5 years with possible extension. The environment ministry is both a signatory and a promoter of the commitments under the covenant. In addition, ADEME is often also a party to the covenant, providing technical expertise and sometimes financing for specific projects.

To-date, 26 covenants (16 multi-thematic and 10 thematic) have been signed with a large number of economic sectors, including transport, public works, hospitals, pharmaceuticals, telecommunications, retail commerce, sports, etc. Under each covenant, an annual statement is issued to the public to show progress in achieving the targets. For example, the air transport sector has reported a 710 000 tonnes reduction in its CO2 emissions and the food retail sector has announced the doubling of the offer of organic products (CGDD, 2014b). Since 2008, over 1 200 companies involved in road transport (passengers and goods) have joined the “Objectif CO2 – The Transport Companies Pledge” initiative on a voluntary basis in order to reduce fuel consumption and related CO2 emissions through four areas of action (vehicles, fuel, drivers, logisitics). Since 2015, freight transport has been involved through the “FRET21 – The Shippers Pledge” programme, and a national framework for urban logistics charters has also been created.

4. Promoting environmental democracy

4.1. Public Participation

The most iconic demonstration of environmental democracy at work was the Grenelle Forum in 2007. While public involvement in the environmental field was not completely unprecedented in France, which had ratified the Aarhus Convention on access to information, public participation in decision-making and access to justice in environmental matters in 2002, Grenelle turned it into an act of political significance. It founded the model of governance by five stakeholders, involving the government, elected representatives, business employers, unions and NGOs in working groups in order to take account of all points of view, and this system of participatory governance was carried over into the annual environmental conferences started in 2012, which take stock of progress towards environmental objectives and set out priorities for the year to come.

By involving all stakeholders affected, this five-part governance systems lends greater credibility to the commitments made and the effectiveness of action taken, and shields them from the pendulum-swings of two-party politics. The process remains limited in the implementation phase, however, and its effectiveness is undermined by the parties’ unequal ability to take part in all discussions, especially the most technical. During the second round of the Grenelle Forum, for example, in around thirty operational committees dealing with more precise issues, the government and employers represented 70% of those taking part, compared to 14% and 2% for NGOs and unions respectively (Boy, 2010).

Multi-stakeholder dialogue was officialised in 2010 with the creation of the national committee for sustainable development and the environment Grenelle (comité national du développement durable et du Grenelle environnement-CNDDGE), in charge of tracking the Grenelle commitments and stepping up social and environmental dialogue. This body was replaced in 2012 by the National Council for the Ecological Transition (Conseil national de la transition écologique-CNTE), which added a group of legislators to the five stakeholder groups. The CNTE is a collegiate discussion forum chaired by the Minister for Ecology, whose opinions structure France’s environmental policy. It has several shortcomings, however: it is not inter-ministerial, for one thing, and its influence therefore depends directly on that of the Minister. There is also some uncertainty over the representativeness of its members, since the presence of environmental organisations is not sufficient to ensure representation of civil society (Gossement, 2013).

Outside the design of public policy, France has also attempted to increase public participation in decisions concerning the impact of plans, programmes and projects on the environment. Its biggest step forward was the adoption of the Public Participation Act in 2012 (Law No. 2012-1460), which implements Article 7 of the Environment Charter. The transparency of the participation process was increased and access simplified by organising public participation over the Internet. Draft decisions with cover notes are posted online, and people are invited to make their observations, which are then summarised by the national public debate commission (Commission nationale du débat publi-CNDP). The summary is also posted on the website. Other measures include the posting of the case-by-case examination form and the publication of the environmental authority’s opinion papers on its website.

Public participation remains inadequate, however, as shown by the furious protests against major projects such as the Sivens dam and the airport at Notre Dame des Landes. A paper by the CNTE observed that despite strong demand to take part in decision-making, people did not avail themselves of the procedures for doing so (CNTE, 2015). This behaviour could be partly explained by a widespread feeling of inevitability, arising from the fact that public consultation over plans, programmes and projects takes place too late, when the projects can no longer be abandoned and only marginal changes can be approved (AE, 2015; Duport, 2015).

Additional consultation must therefore take place at an earlier stage to improve environmental dialogue (Duport, 2015), while preventing excessive bureaucracy (CNTE, 2015). In 2015, the CNTE suggested two separate systems for upstream participation: one for plans and programmes likely to affect the environment; the other for major transport and energy infrastructure projects. The former are already subject to the Environment Code (Code de l’Environnement) and environmental assessment, while the latter must apply to the CNDP. These systems would also include a right of initiative – an alert mechanism – for a legitimate public representative to use in the event of a problem (CNTE, 2015).

The Macron Act also aims to improve the public participation procedure for projects, plans and programmes, introducing it earlier in the assessment process, and making it more transparent and flexible. This flexibility is designed to allow the relevant authorities to establish the terms of public information and participation according to the nature of the plan or project and its level of advancement, and to use new information and communication technologies. The text also aims to simplify public participation by, for example, employing a single public participation procedure for several projects, plans or programmes. The same law, however, entitles the government to reform environment law by decree, to accelerate investigation and decision-making for planning projects, for example.12 The use of ordinances for this purpose excludes parliament from deliberations, which may seem paradoxical in the context of provisions concerning democratic participation, but serves to highlight the importance and difficulty of reconciling streamlined procedures with environmental democracy.

4.2. Access to environmental information

Access to environmental information is of high quality in France: it relies both on the dissemination of information by the ministry’s SOeS department, and on the many online data portals made available to the public in recent years. The quality of environmental information and access to it are rooted in French law: in 2005, the right to access environmental information was written into the Environment Charter included in the Constitution, and France has also enacted the two relevant EU Directives (2003/4/EC; 2007/2/EC). In their own view, however, the French consider themselves to be less well informed of environmental issues than their European neighbours.

The SOeS plays a crucial role in the dissemination of environmental information. Since 1994, it has published a four-yearly report on the state of the environment in France. All figures and ad-hoc reports that it produces are published on its website, which recorded 700 000 hits and over two million page views in 2015. It also gathers and analyses environmental statistics. Originally an independent environmental body known as the Institut français de l’environnement, it became a government agency with national jurisdiction in 2004, reporting directly to the ministry in charge of the environment, before being merged into the CGDD in 2008. These decisions were criticised for their potential to weaken the body’s independence and its role of assessing environmental policy (Sueur, 2007). Despite its importance, moreover, the SOeS is under severe pressure over human resources, which could threaten the quality of its work: any given subject is assigned to a single expert, who would be very hard to replace.

In addition to the SOeS website, France has a number of other online portals delivering environmental information to the public, the most significant of which is Tout sur l’environnement (“everything about the environment”), which meets the requirements of the Aarhus Convention and the Grenelle Forum. It was launched in 2009, and at the end of 2015, it had 132 800 listings produced by 185 public contributors on the state of the environment, environmental pressures, action taken to protect it and current regulations. In 2015, it recorded 142 000 hits and 380 000 page views, and traffic is growing at around 10% per year. The other online portals available to the public are Geoidd for maps; Eider for thematic series and tables; the portals of the different environmental observatories, such as that for biodiversity and for natural risks; a portal for water; another for agriculture. Since 2011, France has been examining the possibility of open data through its Etalab programme, which pushed the country up to third place from twelfth between 2013 and 2014 in the Open Data Index. Three of the ten criteria used to establish this world ranking concern the environment.

Despite the availability of this information, the 2012 Eurobarometer found that just 57% of the French felt they were well informed about the environment, which put France below the EU average of 62% (European Commission, 2014c), although the trend is positive, with the country gaining two percentage points since the 2011 Eurobarometer (see Figure 2.4).

Figure 2.4. The French feel less well informed about environmental issues than the average OECD EU member country

Public dissatisfaction in France over the level of environmental information can be explained by the lack of information about concrete, everyday environmental action – in contrast to the abundance of online data portals – especially information provided to consumers about the environmental impact of production and the use of products, and about how they are recycled. Waste sorting advice and product information are inconsistent and unclear (UFC Que Choisir, 2015). The Triman logo introduced on 1 January 2015 as a means of simplification has proved complex and limited: not all products are concerned by the logo; it is not compulsory to display it on packaging, and nor is there any penalty for failing to display it (Gossement, 2014). As to the environmental characteristics of products, there are hundreds of different labels of varying quality and reliability. There is therefore an urgent need to rationalise and improve the quality of information on the market.

4.3. Environmental education

In France, environmental education is based on firm legal foundations, but the country is facing problems translating this ambition to everyday teaching in educational establishments. As early as 2004, the Ministry of Education launched a process to roll out sustainable development education, backed by a 2007 circular and the Grenelle II Law in 2010 providing for the integration of sustainable development into all school subjects. Education about the environment and sustainable development was also included in the Education Code in 2013. Despite this, French students were less informed about environmental issues in 2006 than their peers in the OECD (OECD, 2008), and a 2014 assessment found that environmental education in middle school remained occasional and unequal (ADEME, 2014).

In 2006, students were insufficiently aware of environmental issues. A survey of 15‐year-olds carried out by the OECD’s PISA programme for tracking student skills found that the proportion of students claiming to be informed about environmental risks at school was, in all cases, below the average for OECD Member countries. France even recorded the lowest figure in the OECD for energy shortages and nuclear waste (OECD, 2008).

In 2004, the Ministry of Education launched a process to roll out sustainable development education in three phases. The first (2004-07) aimed to embed sustainable development in the curriculum for science, history, geography and maths. The second phase (2007-11) was themed “establishments adopting sustainable development” (établissements en démarche de développement durable – E3D), designed by the government to guide and encourage schools to take part in the transition. At the same time, the French environmental education body of-FEEE (office français de la Fondation pour l’éducation à l’environnement en Europe) launched its Éco-École (green school) programme. These two incentive programmes encourage schools to develop environmental education drives alongside various partners (associations, local authorities, businesses, families) and culminate in the award of a label to those establishments fulfilling their criteria. In 2013, 1 800 French schools had joined the Éco‐École programme and by mid-2014 3 250 had started the E3D process. The third and final phase (2011-15) focuses on governance and co-ordination, setting up committees for sustainable development education in the establishments to co-ordinate teaching.

Despite these efforts, France has not made adequate progress in environmental education. An ADEME report in 2014 observed that sustainable development was not yet incorporated into all subjects systematically, blaming insufficient teacher training and the strict French tradition of subject-based teaching. Teenage respondents, moreover, were not particularly interested in sustainable development, and felt that the schoolroom was out of step with real life (local government and business policies, the consumer society) (ADEME, 2014). Achieving the ambitions for environmental education that have been enshrined in law will take professional support for teaching staff and the transformation of the scholastic institution itself.

The issue of environmental education is increasingly attracting the attention of the executive: it was listed among five priorities at the 2013 environmental conference and, also in 2013, the Prime Minister asked the Economic, Social and Environmental Council (Conseil économique social et environnemental – CESE) to give its opinion on the subject (Dubourg and Dulin, 2013). The CESE recommended systematising environmental education and sustainable development projects and initiatives in educational establishments, field trips at primary and secondary levels, and research into how students’ understanding of sustainable development issues is assessed.

In addition to the issue of schools, there is the question of educating all people about sustainable development throughout their lives, as workers, consumers and private individuals. The CESE suggests that this continuous learning can be achieved by building the environment into continuous training and by improving the quality of information on the social and environmental impacts of products and the publication of a directory of initiatives that blend environmental education and public participation (by, for example, linking the themes of natural and cultural heritage during the European Heritage Days). A section on education about the environment and sustainable development should also be included in all public policy plans and the CNTE could set up a special committee on the subject. Although it remains to be seen whether and how these recommendations will be implemented, the information campaigns about climate change ahead of COP21 in Paris seem to have borne fruit: according to a report by the Pew Research Center, 56% of the French considered climate change to be a very serious issue, the third-highest rate of the 14 OECD Member countries examined (Stokes et al., 2015).

4.4. Access to justice

In France, people can access environmental justice either privately, or through an environmental organisation. But the channels set up under the Aarhus Convention to ensure that everybody can apply to a court do not always work very well. Referrals are weighed down by red tape and a lack of inter-ministerial organisation, and access to the courts is sometimes too costly for those without additional support.

For people who have been refused access to administrative documents, including documents of an environmental nature, the first port of call is the Board of Access to Administrative Documents (Commission d’accès aux documents administratifs-CADA), an independent administrative authority. The CADA issues an opinion to both parties which will be acted upon in 77.8% of cases. In 2012, it recorded 4 569 requests for opinions, just 6.5% of which concerned the environment (compared to 6% in 2009) and 16.8 % city planning (compared to 15.4% in 2009) (UNECE, 2014).

People who feel that their rights have not been respected by a public body can apply to the independent Defender of Rights (Défenseur des droits), which replaced the French mediator in 2011. If the claim is upheld, the Defender of Rights issues recommendations to the body at fault to resolve the conflict, but has no power of constraint over the administration. Despite the low level of cases, the processing of applications to the Defender of Rights by MEDDE was found to be inadequate (Soulié and Piney, 2014). The Ministry is slow to respond to requests from the Defender of Rights because it is not sufficiently well-organised for this purpose. To correct these shortcomings and improve the dissemination of information, the CGEDD suggests creating a single contact point for the exchange of information between the Defender of Rights and MEEM. Biannual meetings should also help improve the processing of cases.

In 2000, the Environment Code set out the avenues open to associations for the protection of the environment seeking legal redress. They can challenge any administrative decision affecting the environment and in some cases exercise the rights accorded to civil claimants. Following a ruling by the Court of Appeal in 2006 they were able to act on behalf of collective interests falling within their corporate purpose (Cour de cassation, 2006). Private individuals may also instruct associations directly. A 2012 order by the General Court of the European Union set a precedent allowing NGOs greater access to press for the re‐examination of environmental rulings handed down by the Commission (Gossement, 2012). The public authorities generally contribute half of the funding of environmental associations (National Assembly, 2011), which indirectly assists public access to environmental courts.

As early as 1991, France had created a support system designed to reduce the financial barriers to legal action. This legal aid took the form of “jurisdictional aid” for access to the courts and “aid for access to law” for legal consultations. But access to justice remains very costly for people without access to this aid, especially if the case goes to appeal (UNECE, 2014).

Recommendations on environmental governance and management
  • Simplify planning documents relating to the environment and adopt a more global and integrated approach to environmental issues.

  • Strengthen and simplify environmental evaluation by:

    • introducing more results-based indicators in public policy evaluation;

    • promoting a single EIA per project;

    • continuing to clarify the relationship between EIA and SEA.

  • Continue to reform the environmental permitting system by extending the range of sectors eligible for registration and further rationalise the relevant procedural and substantive rules.

  • Improve the targeting of inspections on the basis of the compliance history of regulated installations; introduce performance indicators to measure non-compliance for both individual installations and the regulated community as a whole; strengthen administrative enforcement measures by introducing administrative fines proportionate to the economic advantages of non-compliance; consider making minor infringements punishable by administrative measures.

  • Strengthen the legal framework for environmental liability by defining procedures and standards obliging responsible parties to remedy the environmental damage they cause.

  • Simplify public participation in the preparation of plans, programmes and projects by making it easier to involve the public at an earlier stage, by creating a procedure for participation on a project-by-project basis and by modernising the opportunities for participation (e.g. via the Internet); bolster public information and communication on environmental costs (externalities and environmental protection expenditure).

  • Strengthen teacher training on sustainable development issues.


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← 1. Law No. 2009-967 of 3 August 2009 programming the implementation of the Grenelle Law for the environment; Law No. 2010-788 of 12 July 2010 detailing the national commitment to the environment.

← 2. Five General Directorates: i) Energy and Climate; ii) Infrastructure, Transport and the Sea; iii) Planning, Housing and Nature; iv) Prevention of Risks; v) Civil Aviation; and a Directorate for Sea Fisheries and Aquaculture.

← 3. The following are also under the authority of MEDDE: Météo France, the National Agency for Hunting and Wildlife (ONCFS) (Chapter 5), the National Parks, the National Institute for Environmental Technology and Hazards (INERIS), the Coastal and Lake Shore Conservation Authority (CELRL), and the Marine Protected Areas Agency (AAMP).

← 4. And four water boards in Reunion, Guadeloupe, Martinique and French Guiana.

← 5. Expect for the Île-de-France region, which needs to provide a regional plan.

← 6. Laville Bettina calls it a sustainable State within the State, as all the powers of arbitration are concentrated in just one ministerial cabinet.

← 7. The constitutional law of July 2008 allows Parliament to ask the Cour des comptes to assess public policies. The Law of 3 February 2011 extends this right to the Presidents of the National Assembly and the Senate.

← 8. Water policy, environmentalpolice, agricultural development policy and maritime policy.

← 9. Waste management by local authorities.

← 10. In France, the word installation has a different definition from the English word installation as used in the United Kingdom, for example. It describes a technical unit of an establishment, even if on occasion several technical units receive a single authorisation applying to all of them (which corresponds to the term installation as used in the UK).

← 11. There is a clause that exonerates the operator from strict liability (without fault) if the activity has not been changed since the petitioner moved to the vicinity of the installation.

← 12. An ordinance is a measure taken by the government that comes into force on publication. At the same time, a bill must be brought before parliament. The ordinance is signed into law if the bill is passed and otherwise retains the status of regulation.