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Climate Change in the Home of the Paris Agreement by Barnard Blogger Sonia Cisneros

Paris, a city of light, love, and climate change. Over the past few years Paris has both propelled itself forward as the home of the Paris Agreement, as well as has been plunged into the deep end of climate change with record storms and floods in 2016, and the onset of smog over the city over the past year.

In December 2015, Paris played the role of host to the Paris Agreement (or Paris Climate Accord) which through the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) works to unite 196 of the world’s nations in a single agreement on tackling climate change. The main goals of the agreement are to keep global temperatures from rising more than 2ºC, to limit greenhouse gas emissions to just that which the planet can naturally absorb, to review each county’s emissions every 5 years, and to provide climate finance to developing nations to allow them to skip fossil fuels and move straight towards renewable energy sources. These goals are large and long term, with projects such as cutting net greenhouses emissions being planned for as far in the future as 2100, but the hope is to begin cutting emissions by 2020 and not let them continue to rise thereafter.

With the absence of the United States, the second-largest producer of greenhouse emissions, from this Accord, the future of climate change control is uncertain. Issues of money, actual emissions reductions, and the reliability of other countries to remain in the agreement are unclear. Along with the ambiguous conditions of the Paris Agreement are the effects already making themselves apparent in Paris itself. In the summer of 2016 Paris saw its worst floods since 1910, and in December of 2016 the appearance of smog over the city was a cause for alarm and resulted in restriction of in-city car use and free public transportation for nearly an entire week.

The summer flooding in 2016 which brought the Seine to a record high of 6.1m, was mirrored again in 2017 with incredible amounts of flash flooding in July. The two-hour storm on July 9, 2017 dropped 54mm of rain on Paris, with 49.2mm of it falling in just an hour, making it the heaviest rainfall on record. Both floods brought anxiety for multiple facets of the city, with the 2016 floods creating a concern for the Louvre and Musée D’Orsay archives, which are both stored below ground level. The 2017 flood created sudden chaos when it shut down at least 20 different metro stations and generated 1,700 emergency calls in one evening.


In December of 2016 heavy smog enveloped the city of Paris, supposedly as emissions from cars and wood burning accumulated under a stagnant pool of air over the city. Mayor Anne Hidalgo mandated a restriction on motor vehicles in the city and opened public transportation up for free for nearly a week in an attempt to alleviate the situation. The restrictions helped to regulate the situation in the short term, and the free transportation proved to be popular. However, it was clear from the rapid accumulation of poor air quality at that time (which caused eye and throat irritation), that Paris needs to do more in the future to keep up with its emissions not only to prevent long term climate change but to limit health problems for its current residents.

Paris still struggles with pollution emissions from vehicles in the city, particularly in areas of congestion such as the Boulevard Peripherique and La Defense. If the pattern of the last two years continues, Paris could see more severe weather and flooding coming its way. Paris may not hold the record for ‘city with the worst greenhouse gas emissions’, but it is the namesake of an agreement that is attempting to combat climate change in huge ways. The issues with Paris’ own public and environmental health are ones which need to be addressed as soon as possible. Then Parisians will follow through as a leader in the world of action against climate change and forge a path to a better future for global health.

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8 Responses

  1. In regards to public transportation in the city: The Paris metro has considerable room for improvement at low infrastructure costs compared to the cost of the same types of changes in NYC, for example. The Paris metro closes at midnight on weekdays and does not run at certain stations until 6am. While this may seem a reasonable time to exclude hours, it forces people who work early and late to rely on other forms of transportation, which can be a considerable number of people, such as bakers. Second, the Paris metro may want to consider expanding its reach across latitudinal lines rather than spoke-wheel formation. This may better link populations across Paris metropolis.

  2. It is interesting to hear about how the home of the Paris Agreement is experiencing the effects of climate change. This may be part of France’s impetus for taking a strong stand against climate change. Following the same logic, given the vast array of ways in which climate change has already affected the United States, one would think that a country with such power should be taking an equally strong stand. However, the fact that the United States is the second largest producer of greenhouse emissions, and that climate change often has the largest effects in the poorest countries, this becomes more than an environmental concern. It is one of human rights.

  3. It was interesting to hear and learn about the inspiration for the Paris Agreement and how climate change is also effecting Paris. I think your analysis about transportation is extremely interesting. Public transportation can be seen as a major green institution in large cities. I think the experiment to try free public transportation is interesting. Did the rise in the use of the metro over that week create more emissions?

  4. Wow such an interesting take on climate change. Since pollution is transboundary, I always find it interesting that many cities around the world who may be working very hard to stop pollution and emissions etc. are actually the ones facing the backlash. In other words countries like France who have strong climate agreements and are not responsible for that many emissions feel the climate change burden more. This is similar to countries like Bangladesh and the Netherlands who are feeling the effects of sea level rise but have hardly contributed to climate change. I wonder when countries like the United States will realize they too are slowly starting to experience the effects. Will it be a huge super storm, an uncontrollable drought, floods? What will make the US realize they too are involved?

  5. I appreciated that you bring up two different sides of the story when it comes to Paris and the environment. It cannot be denied that France has made leaps and strides when it comes to leading and encouraging environmentally friendly initiatives, but the city’s own struggles with climate change are often looked over by the greater public. However, because pollution and climate change are issues that transcend state borders, perhaps success on the international front in terms of lowering emissions will also mean improved conditions at home.

  6. Thanks, Sonia, for highlighting this interesting topic! I appreciate that you pointed out the irony of Paris being both the cite of the most significant climate agreement in the last decade and a place that is still struggling with its own emissions. I’m interested in learning more about the smog event. Was it caused by an increase in localized emissions, or a change in urban air circulation patterns, or something else entirely? Also, Paris has a very interesting urban geometry, and I’m curious about how this configuration may affect climate issues like the buildup of pollutants.

  7. This is quite an interesting article that points out the often-overlooked struggles of what is thought of as one of the most progressive cities in terms of climate change. While the Mayor has made great advances in climate change initiatives, has the federal government made any lasting changes or pushed through any legislation that makes concrete strides forward regarding pollution, greenhouse emissions, etc? Marcon has recently encouraged scientists, engineers, and policymakers to come to France and study the impacts of climate change, but I’m curious about their legislative actions.

  8. Under Mayor Hidalgo’s leadership, Paris has truly proven to be a beacon and leader in convening much of the world to truly commit to the work in addressing climate change. It’s heartening to see that they not only do this work in the face of flooding and oppressive smog in their own city, but to call for other global cities to do the same. Also, it is an example to see that a city can do much, even if the federal government of America is turning its back on this grave issue.

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