Christophe Béchu, France's environment minister. Photo: christophe béchu/Facebook

“Hope for the best and prepare for the worst,” is what they’re doing in France.

The French have been asked what the country should do to prepare for a global average temperature increase of 4°C by the end of the century.

The year 2022 had the hottest summer on record in France, and maybe other countries. There were tens of thousands of extra deaths due to the high temperatures.

A long period without rain meant that rivers dried up and nuclear power stations were forced to shut down, which caused power cuts.

The country that brought us the Paris Agreement with the aim to keep temperatures within 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, now thinks 4°C is perfectly possible.

Environment Minister Christophe Béchu told French newspaper JDD: “We can’t escape the reality of global warming, so we must prepare concretely for its inevitable effects on our country and our lives.”

A roadmap for climate change adaptation

The French government has started public consultations that will last until the end of the summer to try and define a roadmap for climate change adaptation. It will serve as a basis for future policies, making it easier to strengthen them.

It will also be used to come up with the next French climate change adaptation plan which is expected by the end of the year.

The first two versions of this plan, from 2011 and 2018, looked at scenarios where global warming would be below 2°C above pre-industrial levels – the Paris Agreement target – and further increases to 3°C.

But according to a United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) report published last October, global warming will be between 2.4°C to 2.6°C of global warming by 2100 if countries meet their 2030 climate pledges. If policies that are already in place aren’t strengthened, it could reach 2.8°C.

Then, the World Bank warned last November that the world could be headed for global warming of 4°C of warming by 2100. It is likely that the French government has been galvanised into action by this report.

4°C isn’t much, is it?

It’s an average figure. Most of the world’s population would experience more than the ‘4°C average increase’, because land warms more quickly than oceans. Since 4°C is a global average surface temperature, it includes the surface of both land and water.

Despite international pledges to limit global temperature rise to 2°C, the World Bank calculates: “Even with the current mitigation pledges fully implemented, there is roughly a 20 per cent likelihood of exceeding 4°C by 2100. If they are not met, warming of 4°C could occur as early as the 2060s.”

With glaciers and other ice on land such as in Greenland and Antarctica melting, sea levels are predicted to rise by more than 1 metre by the end of the century.

The loss of ice makes land and sea absorb more solar heat. Melting tundra releases methane. The probability of other effects is uncertain, but it is likely that the effects will be much more severe than many governments currently expect.

The World Bank report concludes that a 4°C world would, therefore, be one of “unprecedented heatwaves, severe drought and major floods in many regions”. The consequences would likely create millions of climate refugees, so food scarcity will become a severe problem and the sunbelt equatorial areas will be uninhabitable. There will likely be conflicts over resources such as water.

It’s all the more remarkable that the French government is confronting voters with this potential future given that politicians do not normally look beyond the next voting cycle nor do they normally present voters with negative pictures of the future.

“We can’t escape the global reality of global warming,” the Environment Minister said in a statement.

“We will therefore have to prepare concretely for its unavoidable effects on our country and our lives. This is why we want to give our country a clear adaptation trajectory.

“Unless countries around the world intensify their efforts to cut emissions further still, we are on track for global warming of between +2.8° and +3.2° on average, which means +4° for France because Europe is warming fast,” Bechu said.

Another recent report has said Europe is warming twice as fast as other parts of the world.

So, the French government is now looking at a “more pessimistic scenario” where warming hits 4C°

 “In truth, we should call it realistic,” Bechu said.

It could mean, he said, years where heatwaves last up to two months and some southern parts of the country have up to 90 nights with tropical temperatures a year.

This degree of warming would also see more extreme rainfall in northern parts of France and longer droughts in the south and west of the country.

Water shortages could also increase, causing pressure on farming, and “almost all French glaciers will have disappeared”.

So, what is it doing?

The official announcement allows you to download both a press release and the adaptation scenario so far. It’s in French only.

Possible measures to deal with increased global warming include:

  • All roads will have to be resurfaced because they will melt at higher temperatures.
  • Nuclear power, which currently supplies about 70 per cent of French electricity, will have to be replaced by solar and wind and other forms of renewable power.
  • Measures to contain flooding and water shortages will have to be put in place.
  • Homes will have to be better protected so that their occupants do not suffer the excess heat.
  • Farmers may have to change their practices.

Other changes will be suggested by citizens responding to the consultation, the results of which will be published at the end of year. The consultation closes at the end of summer.

David Thorpe

David Thorpe is the author of ‘One Planet’ Cities: Sustaining Humanity within Planetary Limits and Director of the One Planet Centre Community Interest Company in the UK. More by David Thorpe

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