To mark the third world summit on sustainable development in Johannesburg, Thierry Lavoux offers a survey of the current situation and major trends in France with regard to the environment, basing his study on the excellent report by the French institute for environment (Ifen), L'Environnement en France (Paris/Orléans: La Découverte/Ifen, 2002, 602 pp.).
Focusing first on the state of the natural environment (soil, air and water quality), he notes that this is deteriorating, with French "policies" reminiscent of someone living off capital and frittering it away. There is no need to look far for the reasons for this decline. Turning then to the management of land and natural resources (mountains, coastal areas, etc.), Lavoux argues that in France the idea of prevention is not taken very seriously. He goes on to address the problem of externalities (emissions, waste) and doubts whether the French are capable of reducing the amount of pollution created or of taking account of the true cost of dealing with it. Unfortunately, here too, even though we have flexibility in the matter, Lavoux stresses that efforts to reduce pollution of the air, water and earth, as well as to limit the production of waste at source, vary in intensity, with considerable damage and risks continuing to be generated in certain areas, especially transport.
Lastly, Lavoux wonders whether a "sustainable citizenship" will perhaps emerge, in other words whether the French will become more aware of environmental issues and above all whether they are capable of real commitment to environmental protection. At the risk of oversimplifying, it would appear that while the French are becoming increasingly sensitive to the need to care for the environment, they remain sceptical of their ability to change what happens next.