Country Profiles

France - Country Profile

Biodiversity Facts

Status and trends of biodiversity, including benefits from biodiversity and ecosystem services

By virtue of its geographic position in Europe and overseas, France possesses a very rich natural and cultural heritage; it is a “megadiverse” country. French overseas territories encompass a variety of latitudes: the Mascarene islands, the Guyana plateau, the Caribbean, the South Pacific, the Austral and Antarctic islands and the North American boreal environment. In mainland Europe, France lies at the crossroads of influences and includes 4 of the 11 biogeographic regions (Atlantic, Alpine, continental and Mediterranean). France is therefore situated in 5 of the 37 world biodiversity hotspots recognised by the WWF and IUCN and 4 of these hotspots are located overseas. The French exclusive economic zone (EEZ) covers over 11 million km² and is the second largest in the world. All of these factors mean that France has significant responsibilities in the area of biodiversity.

This variety of territories and biogeoclimatic influences is reflected in a variety of ecosystems and landscapes. It is not possible to list all ecosystem types that are present in France. Some are particularly emblematic, scarce or endangered and require special attention, such as the mangrove swamps, coral reefs, aquatic plant habitats, wetlands, certain agro-pastoral environments, cave environments, etc. For example, French overseas territories have 10% of the world’s coral reefs (ranked 4th in the world), and therefore make a significant contribution to national and global biodiversity. The surface of an ecosystem does not constitute a sufficient criterion for analysing its ecological state; it is also necessary to factor in the way in which it is divided up, its functionality and its past and potential future dynamic. For example, in 2007, an assessment of the state of conservation of French mainland forest habitats of community interest revealed that approximately 65% were in a poor state of conservation, whereas rocky habitats (cliffs, caves, etc.) and sclerophyllus habitats (dry coastal heathland, Mediterranean forests, etc.) were in a fairly good state of conservation.

Within these ecosystems, France has very rich and diverse flora and fauna, both in mainland France and overseas territories. The national register of natural heritage currently lists nearly 11,934 plant species, 43,727 animal species and 14,183 types of fungi in mainland France. In the overseas territories, despite often very patchy knowledge, registers show far wider specific diversity than in mainland France. For example, there are more than 50 times as many endemic plant species. Biodiversity in overseas territories is particularly vulnerable as it is partly insular; populations of species are often small and isolated and there are many endemic species, i.e. species which only exist on those islands. For example, the recent publication of the red list of flowering plants and ferns for La Réunion showed that, of the 905 species analysed, 49 have already disappeared and 275 are threatened with extinction.

Main pressures on and drivers of change to biodiversity (direct and indirect)

Biodiversity is in decline. The objectives set by the Convention on Biological Diversity in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 and the European Union’s 2010 objective “to halt the loss of biodiversity by 2010” have not been achieved. The international community and the EU have committed to strengthen their action from now to 2020 through the adoption of the 2020 Aichi Biodiversity Targets and the EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2020.

The ecological crisis threatening the whole of the nation can be attributed to a number of pressures, which sometimes interact:

  • the destruction, fragmentation and degradation of habitats reduce the number of environments available to species, and their ability to move around;
  • air, ground, water and marine pollution disrupt a number of ecosystems and put human health at risk;
  • using species at levels above their replacement rate leads to their decline;
  • the arrival of invasive alien species in ecosystems that have often already been made vulnerable by other pressures is a recurring problem;
  • climate change has a direct and indirect impact on biodiversity (disruption of life cycles, seasonal shifts, etc.);
  • the reduction of human activities – among them agriculture – may often lead to poorer landscape and biodiversity.

The increase in these pressures is very closely linked to demographic and lifestyle changes. Moreover, their relative significance varies according to geographical, human and ecological contexts (for instance, Polynesian atolls are particularly sensitive to the rise in sea levels caused by climate change). The impact of invasive alien species is very significant in island environments, especially in overseas territories. Overfishing and the degradation of marine habitats have already led to the collapse of certain fish stocks.

Despite growing awareness, especially within the framework of the reviewed National Biodiversity Strategy (NBS) 2011-2020, most anthropic threats and pressures relating to biodiversity are increasing. Many initiatives have been implemented to reverse this trend (e.g. creation of protected areas; action plans for species, strategies to combat invasive alien species; promotion of practices in favour of biodiversity; awareness-raising).

Measures to Enhance Implementation of the Convention

Implementation of the NBSAP

The French National Biodiversity Strategy, which is in line with international commitments, is based on three principles:

  • Biodiversity is a key social issue and the National Biodiversity Strategy therefore promotes the mobilisation and commitment of all stakeholders. This entails making a major long-term commitment to providing information and educational resources so that everybody can understand why it is important to have as much natural diversity around us as possible.
  • Development projects incorporating biodiversity into every activity should be designed and implemented at the scale of territories, especially as local projects promoting biodiversity can have positive and rapid effects at this level. This is particularly valid in overseas territories where biodiversity is exceptionally rich and of major importance to the local people and socioeconomic and cultural development.
  • Frameworks must be put in place at every level of governance (global to local) and at all these levels public policy, including fiscal policy, management and planning legislation which they drive, must be genuinely biodiversity-friendly. The National Biodiversity Strategy has been designed in a spirit of international cooperation and solidarity.

Our knowledge of biodiversity is patchy and therefore observation, research and innovation must be considerably increased. However, there is a degree of uncertainty inherent in science; decisions must advance solutions which contain an element of reversibility, or at least a high degree of scalability. Therefore, in order to frame decisions, academic scientific knowledge, local knowledge, data collected through collaborative sciences and the experiences of the many institutions and associations working to improve our understanding of nature, its conservation and enhancement, should be taken into account. These many different sources of knowledge should feed into democratic debate among citizens in a spirit of partnership. The state and local authorities, within their own spheres of jurisdiction, should assume responsibility and stimulate the emergence of these discussions. It is a case of trusting citizens and their political, socioeconomic and third-sector representatives in the field. Regional or land strategic development projects cannot be viable unless they take the natural environment as a starting point (namely incorporate biodiversity from the outset). Lastly, when degradation of the biosphere entails increasingly heavy costs, promoting the diversity of living organisms should not be considered an additional expense, but rather an investment. In other words, we must undertake what could be called “ecological recapitalisation” (promote a policy aimed at gradually developing our ecological heritage across the country).

Actions taken to achieve the 2020 Aichi Biodiversity Targets

French protected areas already cover more than 20% of the metropolitan (mainland) territory, though with different levels of protection. They are put in place through a national strategy for the creation of protected areas. At present, 12.5% of the metropolitan (mainland) territory is protected in accordance with the Natura 2000 network; 43% of territorial waters and 5% of the EEZ are also under protection. Moreover, new protected areas (terrestrial and marine) will be established, with the Government aiming to put up to 2% of the metropolitan terrestrial territory under high protection in the next 10 years. Regarding agricultural biodiversity conservation, the number of commercial plant species registered in the French national catalogue of plant varieties reveals a slight increase (almost 8,000 in 2006), along with the number of registered species dedicated to traditional and amateur varieties (approximately 250). Apart from cultivated diversity, numerous genetic resources are conserved in public and private collections as well as in those of associated bodies, based on which national collections have been constituted. More than 30,000 varieties of plant populations are conserved by these means. The tendency is similar in the case of agricultural animal varieties; almost a quarter of the 380 varieties from all species present in France are considered endangered. The mapping of “High Natural Value” agricultural zones has been elaborated.

France participated actively in the international negotiations on an access and benefit-sharing (ABS) regime adopted by the tenth meeting of the CBD Conference of the Parties in 2010. The preservation of traditional knowledge, compatible with high biodiversity protection, is promoted, notably in the national park of French Guiana where the importance and legitimacy of traditional authorities are recognized and their economic activities valued. Legal provisions on ABS have first been considered, or are being drafted, for the national park of French Guiana, the Northern and Southern Provinces of New Caledonia and for French Polynesia. A national law on ABS is currently under development. In regard to biodiversity trade, the Natural Heritage Action Plan of the National Strategy for Biodiversity aims to reinforce the fight against the traffic of protected species. The system for preventing and fighting against invasive species was consolidated following the enactment of a decree, implementing the law on rural development (in 2007, this decree led to a ban on trade regarding a whole range of plant species presenting an invasive character throughout the metropolitan territory). France also developed a National Climate Change Adaptation Strategy in 2007.

Support mechanisms for national implementation (legislation, funding, capacity-building, coordination, mainstreaming, etc.)

In terms of legislative framework, France benefits from a legal system for species conservation and follows the rules of international conventions, EU legislation (e.g. Birds Directive, Habitats Directive, Marine Strategy Framework Directive), as well as regional conventions. The National Strategy for Sustainable Development constitutes the framework for the National Strategy on Biodiversity. Moreover, the Grenelle Acts reinforce and complete the National Biodiversity Strategy by means of a considerable number of strong and structuring measures for biodiversity that have been rendered operational. The mainstreaming of biodiversity has been promoted in various sectoral policies.

In the agricultural domain, the 2007-2013 programme of the second pillar of the Common Agricultural Policy (Rural Development Programme) has initiated numerous measures related to biodiversity. The objectives of territorial policies include biodiversity protection (e.g. through the introduction of new tools, such as the blue and green corridors to fight against habitat fragmentation). In the marine sector, the Action Plan for Sustainable and Responsible Fishing has integrated measures aimed at optimizing the management of fishing resources, notably by reinforcing scientific knowledge on their state of conservation and improving the selection of fishing gear. The FLEGT (Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade) regulation, adopted in 2003 at the EU level for the enforcement of forestry regulations, is being implemented through specific agreements with many countries. A strong legislative framework exists for the authorization and management of GMOs, at both national and EU levels.

Environmental protection spending for the preservation of biodiversity and landscapes, which is allocated annually by France (public administrations, private companies and households), amounted to 1,910 million euros in 2010 (from approximately 1,200 million euros in 2000). Financial support is received from the EU. The Government itself is involved in numerous bilateral assistance programs for biodiversity in developing countries, with annual spending having amounted to 126 million euros in 2012.

Mechanisms for monitoring and reviewing implementation

The monitoring of biodiversity strategies takes place at national and EU levels. Every 6 years, EU Member States establish national reports regarding the implementation of the Birds Directive and Habitats Directive on their territories. As of 2007, these reports include a section dedicated to the evaluation of the state of conservation of natural and semi-natural species and habitats of EU interest. The first evaluation round, completed in 2007, constitutes a reference inventory, to which the 2013 assessment will be compared, in order to reveal trends.