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France - Before and After COVID-19

Written by Susie He, Meagan Liu, Esther Zhang and Jessica Song

France has been on the leading edge of eco-friendly projects and regulations. It excels in biotechnology and aerospace. It is also the home of numerous forests, which cover nearly one-third of the country.

However, there are still environmental issues that are left unsolved.

A factory in France releases CO2 into the atmosphere. (Source:

One of the main issues is air pollution, which has been off the limit since 2010. Unlike a pandemic, smog and soot are slow killers. The effects build overtime in individuals who are affected by air pollutants, until one eventually dies from cardiovascular or respiratory diseases. France exceeded nitrogen dioxide levels (associated with exhaust from diesel engines) in twelve zones, according to the European Court of Justice (ECJ). To avoid fines by the European Commissions, the country needs to comply with the EU standards without delays. As a local organization, Airparif stated, the sources of the pollutants mainly (95%) come from the residential and tertiary sector, due to heating, transportation, and industry. This results in destruction of agriculture in some European regions, including acid rains, river acidification and eutrophication, etc.

Although the Covid 19 pandemic is a torment for people’s well-being, economy, and climate change overall, the air quality has undoubtedly improved.

As the French pulmonologist Bruno Hasset stated, “Any drop in pollution is good to have.”

According to WHO, there are 4.2 million deaths resulting from outdoor air pollution every year. It is estimated by Marshall Burke, a professor from the Department of Earth System of Stanford University, that the two months of recovery in air quality would save about 50,000 lives as results of quarantine. As people stay home, traffic on the roads and tourism around the globe have significantly decreased. During the lockdown measures, France’s carbon dioxide emission in the atmosphere was decreased by up to 30%, a first significant improvement in 40 years.

As the end of the Covid lockdown comes close, however, there is a gradual increase in CO2 and NO2 level. An engineer at Airparif, Charlotte Songeur said, “ We’re back to about 80% in terms of emissions or pollutants that are emitted into the atmosphere.” As environmental experts predicted, unfortunately, the levels of CO2 are likely to return to normal in the coming months and weeks.

Above all, both the pandemic and the air pollution in many places around the globe are affecting plants and animals on different levels. It is a crucial time to address both issues immediately.

Another thing worthy of knowing is the “invasion” of wildlife during the quarantine. Animals like monkeys, mountain goats, red foxes and even pumas roamed across the deserted towns and cities.

Dolphins are spotted swimming at the Calanques National Park. (Source: Lionel Laso / Parc nationale des Calanques)

As the lockdown comes to an end, wildlife start to return to their natural habitat--mountains and forests.

There have been bright sides of the pandemic. The apparent return of nature is something we are all achieving for. For now, the key goal is to ensure the preservation of clear skies and fresh air as the end of the lockdown comes close.

Human Nature Projects, in our efforts to provide a cohesive and multifaceted understanding of how France’s environment has changed, also interviewed French citizens for a local perspective.

We spoke to Valerie Roger from SOS Anglo, a company dedicated to supporting English-speakers living in France. Here is what Valerie had to say about her personal experience with France’s environmental changes before and after lockdown:

How has lockdown affected your daily life?

It has not affected my daily life that much as I could run my business from home. Just no face to face with clients anymore. Regarding going out, we needed to fill in an attestation each time we were going somewhere stating why we were going out.

An example of an attestation form provided by Valerie Roger. (Source: Valerie Roger)

Have you seen any visible changes in the local city as a result of lockdown?

Yes, the roads were empty. I think I filled my gas tank only once during the lockdown, which lasted from March 16 to May 11.

Have you noticed any difference in air quality during lockdown?

No, I feel that it was the same as before.

Do you believe that the environmental impact of COVID-19 will last after quarantine ends?

No, unfortunately. However, I hope the government and our citizens have learned from quarantine, and have learned how to be more aware of the environmental impact they leave. For example, I have realized that I don’t need to leave my house so often, and I will be mindful of my transportation habits.

[Thank you Valerie Roger for kindly sharing your experience!]

Thus amidst the pandemic that forced the world to a halt, the return of nature slowly reappeared to take over what was once theirs. In France, the evident man made pollution created only negative impacts for the climate, raising CO2 levels and forcing animals out of their habitats. However, with humans locked at home, animals started to make reappearances back into their own.

Citizens of France connote the change in their lifestyle since the start of quarantine, altering their day to day routines to fit the new world they find themselves in. Although there were no visible differences in air pollution, the rejuvenation of the habitat surrounding France suggests humans as the main cause of environmental destruction. Although citizens doubt the continuous efforts of the government to strive forwards with providing environmental safety, society is realizing the impact they have on the environment. The change in France is truly phenomenal and projects the impact human civilization has on the world around us.


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