16 February 2020 from Danielle in Latest news

In the wake of a visit to the Vallée Blanche at Mont Blanc, Emmanuel Macron has vowed to take greater steps to protect France's natural areas against the effects of climate change. Macron expressed concern over the damning effects of climate change on France's nature, describing the scene as "irrefutable proof of global warming." The mayor of Saint-Gervais les Bains has been requesting action from Macron since September 2019.

Local temperatures this winter are highest since 1881

Macron's visit was spurred by a devastating webcam photo at the Mer de Glace in Montenvers which went viral at the start of February, in which the glacier is clearly suffering. Météo France revealed that this winter has been the region's warmest since 1881. December and January saw an average temperature of 1.2 degrees Celsius, which is 3.1 degrees higher than the long-term average. This summer was brutally hot, with Chamonix recording a record 36° and the summit of Mont Blanc reaching 7° during the June heat wave. When temperatures get that high the permafrost also starts melting, which puts ski lift infrastructures at risk.

mer de glace

Mont Blanc to be protected nature reserve

During his visit, Macron met with environmental scientists in an effort to understand how to help combat climate change. He has since announced his resolve to designate a nature reserve in the area by the end of 2020, with restrictions on the number of tourists and stricter regulations. These include hefty fines for littering and irresponsible behaviour, as well as a ban on certain trucks in the Vallée de l'Arve, which suffers from pollution. The government aims to protect 30% of the country's land by the year 2022.

France's largest glacier retreating at the speed of light

At 7.4km long, the Mer de Glace on Mont Blanc is the largest glacier in France and has long been a popular tourist destination - so popular, in fact, that many locals complain of over-tourism and irresponsible tourism and its negative effect on the mountain. An open letter to the French government from the mayor of Saint-Gervais les Bains in September 2019 complains of, among other things, a tourist who led his dog up to the summit, another tourist who left a rowing machine on top of the mountain, two climbers who flew a plane up the mountain so they could hike higher, and various instances of aggressive and irresponsible behaviour. That's not to mention the pure effects of climate change itself: in just 30 years, the glacier has retreated by 700m. "This is what we are fighting for," said the president in a tweet revealing the changes to the Mer de Glace in 1920 vs. 2020. 

Europe's most famous off-piste run is shrinking drastically

The Mer de Glace at Chamonix is legendary for its off-piste route through the Vallée Blanche, which is 20km long and has a vertical drop of 2700m. It starts from the Aiguille du Midi at 3842m and leads to Chamonix (1100m). That is to say, that's what it used to do. In the past few years, skiers and snowboarders have instead been forced to stop at Montenvers (1800m) because of the lack of snow and melting glacier. In just 30 years, the glacier has shrunk by more than 100 metres at Montenvers as well.

Other measures

Macron has launched a new agency, the French Office of Biodiversity (OFB), to better tackle environmental regulation. In addition to designating the nature reserve, the French government has also promised that as of this summer, it will no longer buy single-use plastics. Disposable plates, cups, cotton buds, and straws are already banned in France as of January 2020, with more single-use objects to be banned in the coming years. Civil servants will also be offered a €200 annual incentive to encourage car-sharing or cycling to work, and ministerial cars will be increasingly electric or hybrid. Several people have criticised what they say is an attempt to gain votes ahead of the 2022 French national election, pointing out the Macron would be better off ending fossil fuel subsidies, among other things. 

Looking for inspiration to be more eco-friendly yourself? Check out our articles on sustainable ski holidays:

The hottest eco-friendly ski gear this year >
Green ski resorts: Eco-friendly options for your ski holidays >
5 ways to cut carbon emissions on your ski holiday >
This winter, take the train to the heart of Austria's ski scene >

Born and raised in the ski paradise of Vancouver, Canada, I learned to ski before I can remember, balancing precariously on my parents’ skis as they sailed down the hill. I started snowboarding in my teens and am now delighted to be exploring everything Europe’s ski scene has to offer!