The French air quality situation reflects a general trend in the industrialized nations: the air quality gains of the past two decades are rapidly being eroded because of increasing pollution from the transport sector. There has been considerable progress made in France in achieving their air quality objectives aimed at reducing levels of all major air pollutants’ levels (to among the lowest in the OECD) in all sectors with the exception of transport. This reflects the continuing central importance of the transport sector to the French economy. The mobility of goods and individuals has risen dramatically in France since 1970:
Goods transport rose 70 percent and private vehicle traffic doubled from 1970 to 1994.
In addition, freight transport by road increased at a rate of 5 percent a year between 1985 and 1995.
This increased mobility has been accompanied by a similar rise in motor vehicle ownership from about 25 private cars per capita to about 43 from 1970-1994.
In addition, the size of the transport infrastructure has also markedly increased, to such an extent that France now has the world’s third largest highway system.
Reflecting these trends, the majority of air pollutant emissions that continue to pose problems in France are derived from the transport sector, despite significant efforts to bring these emissions under control.
According to a European Commission report, over 50% of emissions of polluting agents such as nitrogen oxides (NOx) or carbon monoxide come from road transport vehicles. In Paris, about 3 million cars enter the capital daily, and the resulting smog that engulfs the city causes health problems like asthma and chronic coughing, filling emergency rooms with people suffering from bronchial ailments. The French tourist industry is becoming worried that visitors to Paris will depart with memories of clogged streets, hazy skies, and pictures of the Eiffel Tower shrouded in smoke. France is also the biggest emitter of dioxins in Europe. To control its air pollution problem, the French Environment and Energy Control Agency (ADEME) is attempting to equip the country with a monitoring system that meets the requirements of the national Air Pollution Act.
The International Energy Agency (IEA) has recommended that France increase its air quality monitoring and emission reduction efforts, as well as formulate and implement measures to enhance the use of environmentally sound fuels in order to tackle urban pollution problems. In addition to supporting investments to clean up industrial processes, ADEME is stepping up its work in the transport sector, attempting to change individuals' behavior by encouraging the use of public transport.
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