Air Pollution Is A Major Scourge On The Planet And On The Future Of Humanity

Illustration: Gabriela Landazuri Saltos/HuffPost Photos: Getty

The third leading cause of premature death in France, after tobacco and alcohol, with a cost to society ranging from €70 to €100billion each year, air pollution is everyone’s concern. Actions have already been undertaken, and half of the French population lives in locations covered by an Atmospheric Protection Plan, but the situation is still not satisfactory. Clearly visible at peak times, with immediate consequences to the health of those most vulnerable, it’s actually the daily exposure of French people to still too high concentrations of fine particles, nitrogen dioxides, and ozone that is the root cause of most illnesses. It’s a complex issue that will not be solved with the wave of a magic wand or without the widespread engagement of the state, local communities, economic players, and citizens.

Protecting the health of our fellow citizens and restoring breathable air everywhere is a priority we have set for ourselves along with Agnès Buzyn, Minister of Solidarity and Health, and Elisabeth Borne, Minister of Transport. This means we must take new, ambitious actions to reduce pollutant emissions related to all activities, transports, industries, buildings and heating, and agriculture. It is a matter of establishing a framework which favors solutions and helping as best as possible the local communities, economic players, and citizens who wish to take advantage of them.

Regarding transportation, expanding local transportation is a priority that we want to pursue following the Mobility Conferences organized this fall: to offer all French people an alternative to private cars. At the same time, we will make the fiscal burden on diesel closer to that on gasoline, and we will implement a conversion bonus so that French people may opt for less pollutant vehicles, at the same overall cost. This bonus is a genuine tool for solidarity and complements the existing bonus/penalty system that benefits electric vehicles. Amounting up to of €2,000 for non-taxable households, it’s an opportunity for all those who would like to acquire a used vehicle with better performance and lower fuel consumption. We are also pursuing the deployment of Crit’Air tags, implemented by Ségolène Royal, which support measures undertaken by local communities to favor less polluting vehicles, as part of the “Breathable Cities” (“Villes Respirables”) call for projects. Finally, France will take action at the European level to strengthen norms for reducing pollutant emissions for vehicles allowed on the marketplace and for monitoring their performance. We must internalize the lessons learned from DieselGate and other frauds.

“The third leading cause of premature death in France, after tobacco and alcohol, with a cost to society ranging from €70 to €100billion each year, air pollution is everyone’s concern”

Air pollution also originates in homes, especially due to heating systems. We have implemented a bonus, which can be as high as €3,000, to replace old furnaces burning extremely polluting fuel oil, and, in certain areas, we are experimenting with grant schemes for replacing inefficient wood-burning heating systems. In addition, to continue supporting energy-related renovation work in households, the energy transition tax credit (CITE) will be extended until December 31st, 2018, and will be replaced in 2019 by a bonus payable upon completion of the work, making it more accessible to more modest households by avoiding forcing them to put forward the funds. By helping all households to reduce their heating bills, we are simultaneously fighting energy insecurity.

Finally, regarding the agricultural sections, specific aides to reduce ammonia emissions in farming and a program to monitor air concentration of pesticides have been implemented. For industry, the sector that has reduced emissions the most up until now, tools on a case-by-case basis were implemented in the territories.

Breathable air for all and for the benefit of everyone’s quality of life is the goal that I want to share with communities, economic players, and all citizens.

Nicolas Hulot is France’s Minister of Ecological and Solidary Transition