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09 August 2010
In Summer 2007 the French government launched a democratic debate on environmental issues, known as the Grenelle Environment Project. The initiative marked both the collective awareness and the willingness of the French state to adopt effective measures to deal with the ecological crisis.
The Grenelle Environment Project was first put into action by the Grenelle 1 Act of August 3 2009, which set forth the main principles of Grenelle and created the framework for major upcoming developments.(1) The law on the national commitment to the environment, the Grenelle 2 Act of July 12 2010, created measures to implement the objectives adopted by Grenelle 1.(2) The adopted measures enabled France to catch up with the actions of other EU member states in this area, but the government did not go as far as it could have. According to the Ministry of Ecology, due to the Finance Bill 2008, Grenelle 3 forms a series of investment programmes intended to adapt the French economy to a new growth model based on sustainable development. In 2008 44 environmental tax measures were adopted and then modified by the Finance Bill 2010. These measures mainly concerned housing, the automobile industry, transportation, the energy sector, waste, biodiversity, agriculture and risks.
The environmental concerns of Grenelle can be divided into six major themes:
Grenelle makes the building sector the national priority in the fight against climate change. This sector alone represents almost one quarter of the national greenhouse gas emissions and consumes more than 40% of final energy.
Faced with these findings, Grenelle 1 set as an objective that public and tertiary new buildings should limit their consumption of energy to 50 kilowatts per square metre each year from the end of 2010, and from 2012 for all new buildings. The ultimate aim is to ensure that all new buildings will be energy efficient by 2020.(3) Regarding old buildings, the general objective is to reduce energy consumption by at least 38% by 2020.(4) In order to implement these objectives, Grenelle 2 adopted a number of measures – in particular, it provides that for the lease of all or part of a building, an energy performance diagnosis must be attached to the lease for informational purposes, unless it is a rural lease agreement or a vacation rental contract.(5)
Furthermore, the new law also provides that:
"leases concluded or renewed for premises of more than 2000 sq.m used for offices or shops or commercial premises located in a shopping mall shall include an environmental annex."
This applies from January 1 2012 in respect of leases concluded or renewed as of that date.(6) For current leases, the obligation to prepare an environmental annex will come into force on July 14 2013.
Grenelle 2 also reformed urban planning law so that the land use planning measures are consistent with sustainable development. For example, a mayor may not deny a building permit on the grounds that a building uses materials or processes which prevent the emission of greenhouse gases, renewable energy or renewable materials except in protected areas.(7) However, the building permit may still contain provisions designed to ensure the efficient architectural integration of the project into the existing buildings and surrounding environment.
Regarding transportation, the objective of Grenelle is to develop alternative infrastructures to the roads and to ensure the coherence of the whole transport infrastructure. Measures adopted include:
Due to the climate imbalance seen in recent years, Grenelle is designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in France by developing renewable energy sources and implementing energy-saving measures.
As an illustration, regional climate air and energy patterns have been established to enhance the regional potential of renewable energy sources and to promote energy efficiency. Furthermore, companies with over 500 employees, as well as local and regional authorities with more than 50,000 inhabitants, will now have to carry out an assessment of their greenhouse gas emissions. Finally, any legal person will be allowed to install photovoltaic panels on its buildings and sell the electricity thus produced, benefiting from the subsidised purchase price.
Grenelle will introduce a green and blue frame in France. This should allow the government to ensure territorial continuity, comprising large natural units and the ecological corridors linking them. Grenelle also provides for:
The objectives cover the control of risks and waste treatment, as well as the protection of public health. For example, in any food store larger than 2,500 square metres there must be an area for the removal of product packaging after checkout, and mobile phones will be banned during classes and in places determined by internal procedural rules (eg, schools).
Grenelle aims to implement ecological democracy in both the private and public spheres. Generally, under the principle of legal autonomy, a parent company may not be held liable for the obligations of its subsidiary. However, Grenelle 2 provides that where the operator of a facility classified for the protection of the environment is a subsidiary and judicial winding-up proceedings have been launched against it, the préfet, liquidator or public prosecutor may bring an action. This action should be brought before the tribunal that announced the liquidation in order to establish the existence of serious misconduct by the parent company. Where such fault is established, the préfet, liquidator or public prosecutor may request that the parent company be declared financially responsible for all or part of the environmental remediation measures.
Grenelle 2 provides for a second assumption of responsibility of the parent company based on a voluntary approach, and not on an obligation. Thus, a parent company may decide voluntarily to absorb, in the event of failure of a subsidiary, all or part of the prevention and remediation obligations incumbent on its subsidiary pursuant to Articles L162-1 to L162-9 of the Environmental Code, according to the procedure applicable to regulated agreements.(8)
It is now necessary to await the adoption of numerous enforcement decrees for Grenelle 2, without which the law will not enter into force effectively. However, the Grenelle Environment Project has already led to the adoption of many sustainable development legal rules with an impact on numerous areas of the law, which will take effect as soon as 2011 or 2012.
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