22 August 2016

Reclaiming biodiversity, nature and landscapes

With the Act aimed at reclaiming biodiversity, nature and landscapes, published on 9 August 2016, the Act on the energy transition for green growth, promulgated a year ago, and the Paris climate agreement, France is setting a clear example in terms of environmental excellence.

Content published under the Government Valls III from 2016 11th February to 2016 06th December
To guarantee that biodiversity, nature and landscapes are given back their rightful place and that natural wealth becomes a resource for a sustainable economy:
  • The Act establishes several fundamental principles for protecting environments: ecological solidarity, non-regression as regards environmental protection, no net loss of biodiversity, complementary approaches concerning the environment, agriculture, aquaculture and sustainable forest management and introduction of an ecological compensation scheme, which enshrines the Erika oil tanker precedent into French law. 
  • The Act creates the French Agency for Biodiversity (AFB): a knowledge, coordination, monitoring and technical support tool for economic and environmental stakeholders. A fruit of the merger of four existing organisations, this agency will be up and running by 1 January 2017. In conjunction with the local authorities, especially any regions interested, the AFB will be able to set up regional biodiversity agencies.
  • A national biodiversity committee – a fully-fledged parliament for biodiversity – has been set up by grouping together existing councils, to address the issue of nature conservation, and a national nature protection council, with scientific and technical experts as its members, has also been created to submit expert opinions to the Government. 
  • The remit of water agencies has been extended to encompass land and marine biodiversity, so as to shore up funding for projects in favour of biodiversity. 
  • Knowledge of biodiversity is increasing thanks to data gathered during studies on the impact of plans, programmes and projects, which is now being entered systematically into the natural heritage inventory.
  • Protection of endangered species, environmentally sensitive areas and environmental quality has been improved through such new tools as: 
- creation of the world's fifth largest marine reserve off the French Southern and Antarctic Lands;

- creation of fisheries resource conservation zones;

- regulation of activities on the continental plateau or in the exclusive economic zone;

- protection of cetaceans thanks to the fitting of anti-collision systems on vessels sailing under the French flag in the AGOA and PELAGOS sanctuaries.
  • Measures to prevent and curb invasive exotic species have also been stepped up, and criminal penalties for organised gang trafficking of endangered species or plant protection products have been toughened.
  • Neonicotinoid pesticides will be banned as of 1 September 2018 to protect pollinating insects, birds and human health. For agricultural crops with no satisfactory alternatives, special dispensations may be granted up until 1 July 2020 by the Government on the basis of a risk-benefit assessment performed by the Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety (ANSES). 
  • Under the Act, the Government is authorised to ratify the Nagoya Protocol, which is aimed at allowing "innovation without plundering" by regulating access to genetic resources and associated traditional knowledge for a fair and equitable sharing of economic benefits, as well as at combating biopiracy. 
  • Patenting living organisms, i.e. products stemming from essentially biological processes, is prohibited, so as to foster innovation and remove the obstacles erected by the increasing number of patents being filed on such organisms.
  • Trading of plant seeds is now easier for all farmers under the agricultural mutual support scheme (entraide agricole) and for hobby gardeners when the seed varieties are in the public domain and there is no payment involved. 
Coming hand-in-hand with the Act's adoption is a wide range of practical measures that are already underway:
  • the projects bearing on the 400 Energy-Plus Territories for Green Growth: educational gardens for schools, municipal biodiversity inventories and installation of hives.
  • The actions of the Investments for the Future Programme: 35 small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) have received grants for innovative projects that make use of or protect biodiversity.
  • The "Green tech verte" initiatives, which include the first hackathon, #HackBiodiv, held from 3 to 5 June 2016.
  • The increase in protected areas, with the creation of three marine nature parks since June 2014.
  • The national action plan "France Terre de pollinisateurs" to protect the thousand species of wild bees and pollinating insects.
  • More than 100 municipalities whose public areas are now completely pesticide-free have already been awarded the "Terre Saine" label.
In this way, following the Acts of 10 July 1976 on protecting nature and of 1993 on landscapes, the Government is clearly getting behind a new, dynamic vision of biodiversity where we can live in renewed harmony with nature.

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