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Survey requested by the National Assembly’s Public Policy
Assessment and Audit Committee
December 2015
The following report was drawn up at the request of the
President of the National Assembly acting in the name of the
Public Policy Assessment and Audit Committee (CEC), within the
framework of the parliamentary assistance procedure provided
for in Article L. 132-5 of the Financial Courts Code.
This summary is intended to aid in understanding and using the
report prepared by the Cour des comptes. Only the report is
legally binding on the Cour des comptes.
The health and economic impact of atmospheric pollution warrants an ambitious
public policy. Experts believe that this type of pollution is responsible for between
17,000 and 42,000 premature deaths a year in France and carries a minimum
economic cost of €20-30 billion, with figures varying depending on the pollutant
and the illnesses related to it. The impact on the public finances is evident
already, with air pollution-related illnesses costing the national health insurance
fund (CNAM) at least €1 billion. Health studies show, moreover, that the most
severe effects of pollution are caused by prolonged exposure to pollutants in the
shape of harmful aerosols.
The European Union (EU) has been the driving force behind most of the measures
and tools deployed in France to combat air pollution in the last 30 years. It is vital
to pursue this policy within an international framework, for while the effects of
air pollution are local, emission conditions and the influence of atmospheric
movements necessitate shared standards to ensure that no European nation is
penalised for emissions produced by neighbouring countries that are not cutting
their own emissions. Yet France sometimes implements European directives late
or in ways that leave it exposed to legal action.
That being said, a number of the measures put in place have had significant
France has an effective air quality monitoring system, even if efforts are still
needed to capture pollutants whose harmful effects have been identified more
recently, such as pesticides or ultrafine particles.
Emissions of industrial pollutants have declined considerably, and not merely
because of deindustrialisation. Stricter standards and work in recent years with
economic agents to develop better techniques have played a part in sharply
reducing the share of pollutant emissions attributable to the industry and
energy production sectors. The transport sector has also taken significant
strides forward, despite the shelving of measures that would have had a major
effect on pollution, such as the ecotax and identification of the most polluting
vehicles, which is necessary to create restricted traffic areas. The residential,
services and farming sectors remain relatively unaffected by emission-cutting
measures, even though they represent a growing share of the emissions of certain
polluting substances.
The many different emitters present and the mobile or spread-out nature of
pollution sources, which range from on-road vehicles to farming operations
and individual heating systems, make it more complicated to carry out anti-pollution
measures at the local level and preclude a national one-size-fits-all solution.
Survey requested by the National Assembly’s Public Policy Assessment and Audit Committee
Public policies for the prevention
of air pollution
Despite a regular and in some cases pronounced decline in emissions since
1990, some parts of France are still in a non-compliant situation in terms of
concentration levels for certain pollutants, including ozone, fine particles and
nitrogen dioxide. And indeed the European Commission has begun potentially
costly legal action against France owing to breaches of the authorised standards
for these last two substances.
In the face of these challenges, France has yet to establish a stable air pollution
prevention policy. Although it first emerged in the 1980s, this policy today is built
on a variety of overlapping mechanisms, not all of which have improving air
quality as their primary and explicit objective. In fact, the goal of preventing
pollution actually clashes at times with the objectives of other public policies,
notably those geared to prevent climate warming. For example, the emphasis
placed on cutting CO2 emissions has led to support for technologies that emit
atmospheric pollutants with harmful short-term effects, such as nitrogen
dioxide or fine particles. Measures taken over the years to promote diesel or
wood-based heating methods illustrate this point.
Aside from those applied to the industrial sector and energy production, the
measures taken have not gone down the “polluter pays” route. Rather, regulatory
tools have primarily been used, offering few specific financial incentives other
than those aimed at limiting emissions linked to individual heating systems.
Furthermore, the subsidiarity principle is not fully applied, which undermines
the effectiveness of the initiatives taken. While air pollution is an essentially
local problem that requires a concerted response by those responsible on the
ground, the way that responsabilities are distributed creates strain. Too many
initiatives at national level disrupt local action by prefects and local authorities,
delaying or hindering the implementation of effective tools. This is notably
observed during spikes in pollution.
To be effective, the fight against air pollution requires much greater involvement
by all economic agents, including individuals. Changes in individual behaviour,
particularly in terms of transport and energy consumption, are what must be
The last five years have brought a string of national plans without any assessment
of the measures put in place. Spending by general government on this issue
has not been tracked. All of this is evidence that while steps have been taken
to promote air quality, there is still no structured policy spanning all polluting
sectors and backed by clear communications.
Survey requested by the National Assembly’s Public Policy Assessment and Audit Committee
Public policies for the prevention
of air pollution
Orientation and recommendations
To the Agriculture, Agrifood and Forestry Ministry:
Include measures in the next national plan to reduce emissions of atmospheric
pollutants (PREPA) so that the State can meet European emission ceiling
targets by 2030;
To the Ecology, Sustainable Development and Energy Ministry:
Measure the impact of measures taken to prevent air pollution within the
framework of national and local plans and also during pollution spikes;
Ensure consistency in the timing of national plans, regional schemes and
local air pollution prevention plans to ensure that the framework for local
action is better defined;
In national and local plans, quantify the financing associated with planned
Implement funding for the air quality monitoring network in accordance
with the “polluter pays” principle in all economic sectors;
Make it mandatory for approved air quality monitoring associations
(AASQAs) to monitor the airborne presence of the most harmful pesticides;
Tax diesel and petrol according to their respective negative externalities
(atmospheric pollutants and greenhouse gases) to rebalance the tax
treatment for these two fuels;
Owing to the phase-out of the ecotax, review the special tax rates for certain
on-road vehicles to more effectively take account of the impact of HGV
emissions on air pollution;
Introduce stickers to identify vehicles according to their pollutant emissions,
so that traffic restriction measures can be set up more quickly;
Track all credits assigned not only to monitoring but also to measures
to improve and conduct research into air quality;
Enhance the information provided to Parliament by adding air quality
indicators to the budget annex dealing with environmental protection;
To the Social Affairs, Health and Women’s Rights Ministry:
Set up information-sharing for epidemiological purposes between
occupational health services, regional health agencies and interregional
epidemiology units (CIREs).
Survey requested by the National Assembly’s Public Policy Assessment and Audit Committee