Record breaking Parisian summer exposes lack of trees in capital

Paris ranks poorly compared with other major cities when it comes to 'green cover' provided by trees, and record-breaking heatwaves are bringing this to light.

Record breaking Parisian summer exposes lack of trees in capital
A customer reaches down to pick up a bottle of water from a street vendor in Paris on June 17, 2022. Photo: Stefano RELLANDINI/AFP

According to figures from the World Cities Culture Forum, just 10 percent of Paris is considered green space.

That number pales in comparison with other major capitals, and is nowhere near cities such as London, on 33 percent, or Oslo, where a staggering 68 percent of the city is made up of green space like parks and gardens.

While this may be old news for many Parisians, this summer’s record breaking heatwaves are really bringing the point home. The asphalt outside Paris’ Garnier Opera house, for example, recently reached 56C, and Parisians have little shade or green space in which to avoid the heat.

And the scorching temperatures have affected the whole of France. At the peak of the June heatwave, a village in southern France in June recorded the country’s first ever 46 degree temperature, and cities across the country are braced for further scorching temperatures, with 26 départements currently placed on heatwave alert at the ‘orange’ level.

READ ALSO: Heat alerts: What temperatures can we expect in France this week?

According to France’s national weather agency, Meteo France, last month was the hottest July on record, and for those who were in capital, the sweltering temperatures laid bare not only Paris’s lack of shade but its need for natural defences against global warming.

With little shade and green space to shelter in, Parisians are feeling the full brunt of the heat.

Paris City Hall has outlined plans to plant 170,000 trees by 2026 and fill the city with “islands of freshness”, however the green plans have provoked some protests and opposition. Environmental campaigners say local authorities have felled decades-old trees to clear the way for garden spaces.

In the longer term, however, cutting down older trees contradicts the authorities’ own ambitions as saplings are weaker in the face of drought and less useful in fighting temperature radiation, according to activists.

Urban planners claim that Paris cannot confront record temperatures and climate change more broadly without cutting down some trees.

Member comments

  1. It’s true that the number of green spaces is low, but Paris’ low proportion of green cover is the corollary of housing density.
    In many cases the high density in Paris has positive outcomes .. lower requirement for private cars (nb. I said requirement, not ownership), easier more cost-effective use of shared resources (also more densely distributed) such as electric car charging points, shared bikes etc. Higher proportions of the population can be easily affected by city-wide actions on, eg public transport. The 15-minute city is massively easier to implement in hgh density cities.
    Dense housing=distances to all services ..boulangeries, schools, services etc are low.
    In a thread on Paris pedestrian-only school streets, one American asked how the buses managed. Answer: schools are local, *everyone* walks there.

    Yes, Paris is hot, but the city is actively looking at addressing this with the dedicated (dedicated=focussed rather than working hard 🙂 Paris at 50*C group.

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Macron to visit wildfires site as blazes break out across France

As temperatures finally begin to fall after a record-breaking heatwave in France, forest fires still rage across the country. On Wednesday President Emmanuel Macron will visit the south west, where two major fires continue burn.

Macron to visit wildfires site as blazes break out across France

The French president is expected to meet members of the emergency services, local officials and volunteers as he tours the area on Wednesday alongside Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin.

In Gironde, south west France, there are currently two massive fires – in La Teste-de-Buch and Landiras – that have not yet been contained, though firefighters have managed to gain better control over the flames more thanks to improved weather conditions. 

But fires have broken out across France, including in Brittany, Yvelines in the Paris region and Oise in north east France.

MAP Where are the main wildfires in France right now?

The heatwave has largely ended, with temperatures across the majority of the country dropping from above 40C on Tuesday to the mid-20s on Wednesday.

In Gorinde, local fire service spokesman Arnaud Mendousse told AFP that only 300 more hectares had burned since Tuesday evening. “Our assessment is generally positive. The situation improved overnight.”

In total, nearly 20,600 hectares of forest have gone up in smoke – an area equivalent to almost twice the size of Paris.

So far, 36,750 people have been evacuated from the area, and most do not know when it will be safe to return home. 

“We are not in a position to tell people when they will be able to go home,” said the sub-prefect of Arcachon, Ronan Léaustic, during his press conference.

Humans are not the only ones who have needed to be taken to safety. On Monday, the local authorities in Gironde ordered the emergency evacuation of a zoo in the Bassin d’Arcachon. While most animals were transported out of harms way, “a dozen unfortunately did not survive the heat and stress,” according to the Environment Ministry.  

The biggest blaze is in a thinly populated area south of Bordeaux near the village of Landiras, which is being treated by police as suspected arson.

A suspect remains in custody and will be charged or released on Wednesday.

A second fire has ripped through a popular ocean-front tourist area behind the Dune du Pilat, Europe’s biggest sand dune, near the Bay of Arcachon.

It is thought to have been caused by a van that caught fire last week.

READ MORE: MAP: Where are the main wildfires in France right now?

Meanwhile, fires have also broken out in eastern France and notably in Brittany, where a fire is currently burning in Finistère, causing 500 people to be evacuated.

The fire broke as Brittany experienced record-breaking high temperatures and was placed for the first time on the ‘red’ alert for heat by Météo France. As of Tuesday morning, Finistère went into the ‘orange’ alert level as temperatures began to drop and storms picked up. 

The local authorities in Finistère said the fire has slowed down and is in the process of being contained, citing 1725 hectares burned.

The fire in Brittany burned along the mountains of Arrée, where a historic chapel – the church of St Michel de Brasparts – stands. Firefighters were able to save the church from burning, with flames stopping just a few metres from the structure.

Smoke from the fires has drifted across large parts of France, with the départements of Gironde, Charente, Dordogne and Vienne particularly affected by poor air quality.

READ ALSO Is the smoke drifting from France’s wildfires dangerous?

But the effects were felt as far away as Paris, as inhabitants of greater Paris Île-de-France region noticed a hazy sky and the smell of burning on Tuesday night.

According to Airparif, the agency that monitors air quality in the Île-de-France region, concentrations of particulate matter (air pollution) were in “in sharp increase,” which is attributable to the fire in Gironde and to “local fires”.

The AirParif particle pollution map below shows pollution coming from the south west.

For residents in the Paris area, the fire in Rochefort-en-Yvelines, near Rambouillet, might be most to blame for the strong smell of smoke, however. The city also saw two fires on Tuesday – one at a restaurant in the 16th arrondissement and another in a vehicle in the 17th arrondisement. These are not likely to be the origins of the plume of pollution, however.

Across France, emergency services are asking people not to call if they simply smell smoke, only if they see a fire.