UK heatwave: Wales appears to be hitting record high as Britain sizzles

PARIS — Long a favorite spot for picnics and sunbathing, the lawns surrounding the Eiffel Tower have recently become the scene of angry protests. First came a social media campaign. Then a rolly by dozens of local residents. After a short time, a protester squatted down in a nearby plane tree for a hunger strike.

The source of her anger? A plan to cut down more than 20 trees, some over 100 years old, around the tower to build a huge garden and reduce tourist congestion.

The controversy is just the latest in a row that has engulfed Paris City Hall in an attempt to green the city, a task that seems all the more urgent as searing temperatures descend on the French capital and the rest of Europe.

Local authorities are reshaping Paris’ cityscape to make it more climate-friendly, but a growing number of residents say widespread tree felling around the capital is paradoxically undermining the city’s green ambitions.

Trees are considered one of the best defenses against the radiation that contributes to the heat waves that are increasing everywhere due to global warming. They’re providing some much-needed coolness in dense cities like Paris, where temperatures were in the high 90s on Monday afternoon and are expected to rise.

Recognition…Andrea Mantovani for the New York Times

“Without the trees, the city is an unbearable blast furnace,” said Tangui Le Dantec, urban planner and co-founder of Aux Arbres Citoyens, a group protesting tree-cutting in Paris.

Small-scale protests have erupted across Paris in recent months, with residents and activists gathering around trees condemned by the sprawling urban development projects that have at times turned the capital into a massive construction site.

In April her filmed the felling of 76 mostly decades-old plane trees at the Porte de Montreuil on the northern outskirts of Paris. City Hall wants to turn the site into a giant square, part of a project by Mayor Anne Hidalgo to create “a green belt” around the capital.

“MS. Hidalgo, please stop the massacre,” said Thomas Brail, founder of the National Group for the Surveillance of Trees, as machines chopped down trees behind him Video He shot in April. Mr. Brail later went on an 11-day hunger strike in the plane tree near the Eiffel Tower.

Recognition…Andrea Mantovani for the New York Times

Yves Contassot, former deputy mayor of Paris in charge of the environment and a member of the Greens, said tree felling has “become a very sensitive issue that creates a certain scandal when we talk about the fight against global warming in big cities “.

The plan to renovate the traffic-calmed area around the Eiffel Tower initially seemed environmentally friendly to the Parisians. Most vehicles would be banned and a network of pedestrian lanes, bike lanes and parks would be created.

“A new green lung”, the town hall boasted on its website.

But residents discovered in May that the plan also meant cutting down 22 established trees and threatening the root systems of several others, including a 200-year-old plane tree planted well before the Eiffel Tower was built in the late 1880s.

“The poor tree was planted in 1814 and one morning some people want to make room for luggage storage and it gets swept away,” said Mr Brail, the protester who was staging a hunger strike in the tree, scoffing at plans to improve facilities for visitors.

Recognition…Thomas Coex/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

A series of protests, along with an online petition that garnered more than 140,000 signatures, finally forced the city council on May 2 to change its plans and promise not to cut down a single tree as part of the greening project.

Emmanuel Grégoire, deputy mayor of Paris in charge of urban planning and architecture, said in an interview that the city realized it was “losing a symbolic battle over the project’s green ambitions”.

In 2007, Paris adopted a climate plan that helped reduce the city’s carbon footprint by 20 percent from 2004 to 2018 and nearly double its use of renewable energy, according to a recent report by regional authorities. Paris’ new goal is to become a carbon-neutral city by 2050, powered only by renewable energy.

Mr Le Dantec, the town planner, acknowledged that “in terms of pollution reduction there has undoubtedly been an improvement”. He cited Ms Hidalgo’s successful, albeit controversial, plans to restrict car traffic in the capital.

But he added that Paris city plans had neglected another reality of climate change: rising temperatures, against which trees are believed to be some of the best defenses.

Recognition…Christophe Archambault/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Trees cool cities by providing shade and mitigating the effects of so-called “urban heat islands” that are prevalent in Paris by absorbing radiation. Météo France, the national weather service, has estimated that temperatures on these heat islands have sometimes been 9 to 18 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than surrounding areas during recent heatwaves.

In mid-June, as France was suffocating under searing temperatures, Mr. Le Dantec was wandering around Paris with a thermometer. On the Place de la République he has recorded Temperatures of up to 140 degrees Fahrenheit on concrete surfaces, compared to 82 degrees under a 100-year-old sycamore tree.

“Trees are our best protection against heat waves,” says Dominique Dupré-Henry, former architect at the Ministry of the Environment and co-founder of Aux Arbres Citoyens.

But of 30 major cities surveyed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Paris has the lowest tree coverage at about 9 percent, compared to London’s 12.7 percent and Oslo’s 28.8 percent.

“This is exactly the opposite of climate change adaptation,” said Ms. Dupré-Henry.

Mr Grégoire said Paris plans to plant 170,000 new trees by 2026. Using the example of Porte de Montreuil, the area north of Paris, he said far more trees were being planted than were felled.

Recognition…Andrea Mantovani for the New York Times

“It’s a project with very high environmental standards,” said Mr. Grégoire, highlighting the transformation of what is now a huge paved roundabout into a green space. “The result is positive in terms of combating urban heat islands.”

The regional environmental authorities are less confident. In their assessment of the project, they noted that the construction works and new infrastructure “will add more heat, on the contrary”.

Mr Le Dantec also said young trees are less effective than older ones in the short term at mitigating global warming because their foliage is smaller and cannot absorb as much radiation. “A 100-year-old tree is worth 125 new trees planted,” he said of absorbing carbon dioxide and cooling his surroundings.

At the Porte de Montreuil, residents had mixed feelings about the project. Lo Richert Lebon, a 57-year-old designer, praised the “green efforts” and said they would help improve the quality of life in this long-decaying suburb.

But “lawns aren’t worth trees,” she added, as she stood in the shade of plane trees about to be felled as part of a redesign of a flea market in the area. “Trees should be incorporated into this effort rather than being an adaptive variable.”


July 18, 2022

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated how much hotter Paris was than the surrounding area during the recent heat waves. In Paris, temperatures were 9 to 18 degrees Fahrenheit higher, not 40 to 50 degrees.

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