France Environment and Population

Environment and territory

In the nineties, environmental issues, and in particular those concerning natural hazards, became the subject of extensive and in-depth research in France, prompted, on the one hand, by opinion movements and, on the other, by the growing frequency of events calamitous such as, for example, rainfall of exceptional intensity. The latter is responsible for the phenomenon of floods, which the dense hydrographic network leads to affect a large part of the territory and, with considerable danger, over 20 % of the 36. 000municipal administrative units. Faced with hydrological excesses – including, on the contrary, the drought crises that mainly affect the Garonne basin in the summer period – the ‘water policy’ implemented was very different between the various regions.

While, in fact, the Seine basin is sufficiently equipped with lakes-reservoirs, able to contain the floods at least in part, the concern to safeguard the natural characteristics of the Loire basin has strongly conditioned and delayed the control interventions; in turn, in the Rhône basin, the classic river barriers intended for the production of hydroelectric energy were not matched by organic planning aimed precisely at limiting the danger of floods. Another very lively problem is that of erosion and instability linked to the geomorphological dynamics. More or less significant ground movements affect 10% of the French municipalities, located in the Alpine valleys, in the sedimentary basins and along the coasts, but also in the alluvial lowlands and in the hilly slopes of Aquitaine, Champagne and Alsace. The phenomena of subsidence, linked to the presence of abandoned mines, which occur in the ancient northern coal basin, must still be kept in mind.

A lively debate is also underway regarding forest cover, at the base of which there is, however, an increase in the wooded area of 30 % in the last forty years of the 20th century, which has brought it to almost 16millions of ha, excluding poplar groves. These, considered rather plantations and widespread in the western and northern regions, are an expression of industrial forestry, which many have contested; as well as the extensive reforestation of resinous plants carried out both in the high mountains (Pyrenees, Massif Central) and in the plains (Landes, Basin of Paris), accused of having distorted the natural landscape and compromised agro-pastoral activities, and which are the most exposed to the destructive action of ‘acid rain’. There is, then, a myriad of small wooded plots (about 3, 5 million ha), which account for 25% of the forest area: considered by many to be an impediment to the rationalization of land use, they nevertheless form a very important heritage in the face of projects for the reconstruction of the ecosystem, protection of biodiversity and creation of a network of green areas, including peri-urban ones. Finally, with regard to anthropogenic environmental risks, that is, deriving from the industrialization process and accumulated for a long time in a country with a mature economy, it should be emphasized that the decisive option for nuclear energy (now in 75% of the total) has drastically reduced the emissions previously generated by conventional thermal energy sources: together with the process of relocation and diffusion of production activities, this has contributed to loosening, especially in ‘critical’ urban areas, the grip of water pollution and atmospheric, the long-term effects of which remain, however, difficult to reverse.


According to trackaah, the trend towards population growth continued in the 1990s (60,163,693 residents according to a 1999 estimate), but a slight slowdown in growth was also confirmed, due to the decrease in the birth rate (down to 12 ‰), while the official migration balance should stabilize around 50. 000 units per year. The projections prepared by the National Statistics Institute, according to the scenario – considered the most reliable – of a continuation of the recent trend, see the French population reach 61. 700. 000 residents in 2010, the 63.450. 000 residents in 2020 and 65. 100. 000 residents in 2050. Limiting itself to the short term, a growth rate of around 3 ‰ per year would therefore be maintained ; subsequently, it should gradually be reduced to 2, 5 ‰.

Inside the country, the current contrasts would, on the other hand, tend to worsen. Increases above average and between 7 and 12 ‰ per year would concern the southern and central regions, while the Paris region, together with Alsace, the lower Loire basin and Aquitaine, would be on the average; on the other hand, regions such as Poitou-Charentes would show a turnaround around 2005, passing to negative values, and others (Auvergne, Champagne-Ardenne, Limousin, Lorraine and Nord-Pas-de-Calais) would suffer more or less losses. less marked over the entire period. Due to the current distribution of the population, this means that two thirds of the4 regions out of 22 (Île-de-France, 23 %; Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, 17 %; Rhône-Alpes, 16 %; Languedoc-Roussillon, 10 %) and, going into greater territorial detail, even the 82 % would be absorbed by only 20 of the 96 departments. Likewise, it would tend to increase urban concentration, even if cities would not be able, in demographically weaker areas, to compensate for the losses recorded by rural areas (thus, for example, in the Charente, the Dordogne and the Massif Central). The natural surplus, albeit in decline, would remain significant, and equal to 85% of the entire French budget, in Île-de-France, Nord-Pas-de-Calais and Rhône-Alpes, however with an accentuation of the migratory balance already negative for the first two regions, while the third, together with South (from Aquitaine to the Mediterranean belt), it would see its ability to attract internal movements greatly increase: the problem is to understand whether these influences will affect the young, working-age or elderly population. Another fundamental issue is, in fact, that of structural aging: in 2010 the incidence of age groups under 20 will drop, overall, to 24 % of the total against 28 % in 1990, while that of classes over 20 i 60years will pass from 19 to 23 % (but to 30 % in about fifteen departments) and the increase in average life expectancy will increase the number of residents over 75 years of age (almost 9 %, and peaks of 14% in regions such as Limousin). Senilization will particularly affect the geographical area between Burgundy, the Massif Central and rural Aquitaine, but also Mediterranean departments such as the Côte d’Azur (where, however, it should be at least partially compensated by the immigration of active population) and, new, the regions of the West; conversely, Île-de-France and the northern regions should be more sheltered from the effects related to natural dynamics, foreign immigration and the emigration of the elderly to the South itself.

France Environment and Population