The heat coming off the tarmac outside the Garnier Opera house in Paris reached 56 degrees Celsius on urban planning expert Tangui Le Dantec’s thermometer as a third heatwave roasted France this week. With scarcely a tree in site, there was no shade.
The Place de l’Opera is one of several so-called urban heat islands in Paris, missing trees that provide shade and are viewed as a critical line of defense against climate change and increasingly hot summers.
Le Dantec’s thermometer registered 28 degrees Celsius only a minute’s walk away, in the shade along the tree-lined Boulevard des Italiens (82 degrees Fahrenheit).
“Immediately there’s a bit of a breeze. You can breathe,” Le Dantec, who founded Aux Arbres Citoyens, an action group opposed to tree felling.
Paris ranks low among worldwide cities in terms of green cover. According to the World Cities Culture Forum, just 10% of Paris is made up of green space such as parks and gardens, compared to 33% in London and 68% in Oslo.
According to the national meteorological office Meteo France, last month was the warmest July on record in France, with the scorching temperatures emphasizing the need to bolster the capital’s natural defenses against global warming.
Paris City Hall intends to plant 170,000 trees by 2026 in order to create “islands of freshness” Them is also removing concrete from dozens of school yards and replacing it with dirt and plants.
“It’s a massive tree and vegetation-planting project that is underway, much bigger than under previous administrations,” said Jacques Baudrier, deputy Paris mayor in charge of the green energy transition in buildings to Reuters.
However, City Hall’s green aspirations have sparked some criticism. According to Le Dantec and other environmental activists, municipal governments have been cutting dozens of decades-old trees to make place for garden areas.
The removal of old trees in redrawing the city’s landscape goes opposed to the government’ own aims, green campaigners argue, since seedlings are more prone to drought and less effective in combating heat radiation.
Green campaigner Thomas Brail captured footage in April showing more than 70 trees being cut on the city’s northern outskirts to make room for Mayor Anne Hidalgo’s concept of a “green belt” encircling the city.
According to City Hall’s urban planners, Paris cannot be reconfigured to effectively combat climate change without the removal of certain trees.