Paris’ Miasma: The Pollution Plan

Theodore Robin
By Théodore Robin

Paris’ mayor, Anne Hidalgo, has an ambitious plan to drastically reduce the French capital’s air pollution and carbon footprint. France’s largest city, Paris, is one of the most polluted urban spaces in the country. It regularly experiences peaks in air pollution, often caused by specific weather patterns. Additionally, the city’s topography worsens the situation by trapping the air pollution inside of Paris. Although the city has a sturdy and extensive public transportation system, many commuters from the suburbs still use their cars to get to work. Furthermore, Paris is an important hub in France’s highway system, meaning many cars travel through or around the metropolis to various other regions. All this is especially concerning, given that many children who have grown up in the city suffer from higher levels of asthma and other respiratory diseases, compared to children who grew up in other parts of France. It is also worth noting that climate change will affect the Parisian basin because of rising sea and potentially river levels, which will make flooding more common, particularly in low-lying areas.

Recently, the administrative court overthrew a decision that would ban car travel on the iconic banks of the Seine River. This measure was part of a larger set of plans enacted by the mayor’s office, which has set up drastic initiatives to reduce air pollution. The municipality seeks a ban on diesel cars inside the capital by 2024, and all cars that run on petroleum by 2030. Hidalgo wants Paris to become the first urban area in France to run entirely on electric cars. Additional plans aim to make all Parisian streets cyclable and to have 100% of the city’s energy come from renewable sources by 2050.

Although everyone agrees that these measures are vital to ensure a reduction in air pollution in Paris, many critics have disagreed with the method: criticisms have come from both the left and the right. Many, particularly on the left, have argued that these measures hurt poorer individuals and families. This is because the plan proposes to gradually eliminate older, more polluting cars, which tend to be owned by lower-incomes households. Hidalgo wants to incentivise Parisians to buy electric cars rather than cars that run on petroleum, but the former is more expensive on average than the latter.  Other critics, predominantly on the right, have argued that these measures are too sudden, hurt business, and will make commuter travel time even longer than it already is. Ironically, on opposite sides of the same coin, while many are calling the mayor’s plan too ambitious, others suggest that these measures need to be implemented on a national level to be truly effective.

Supporters of the plan point out that ‘Grand Paris’, one of the main infrastructure projects shaping the region until 2030, aims to expand the light rail and the metro system into the surrounding region, which will help to ease automobile traffic on ring roads around Paris by making suburban towns better connected.

Paris, of course, is not only city attempting to tackle urban pollution. Other European countries are also looking to implement new rules concerning diesel cars. Recently, the German Federal Administrative Court has authorised cities to ban diesel cars from its streets. Having given its name to the most recent international Climate Accord in 2015, Paris really wants to become a model city by the 2024 Summer Olympics: an ambition that could radically reshape the city’s outlook for the rest of the 21st century, and even beyond.


Header Image: Foggy wather in Prague (Táborská street in Nusle), Czech Republic. Used under CC0 license.

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