Cars, industry, meat … What are the causes of global warming in France?


"Stop typing on the plane", stop at "Bludgeoning motorists", stop at "Meat bashing" … Whenever a measure is proposed to combat the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions responsible for climate change, the outcry is immediate, always with the same argument: the "real" pollution would come from elsewhere.

But which activities emit the most greenhouse gases in France, and in what proportions? To feed this debate, we looked at the contributions of the main sectors.

  • Transportation, the leading source of greenhouse gases

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is the main greenhouse gas, but not the only one. To measure the effect of different pollutants (methane, nitrogen dioxide …), specialists calculate a global warming potential in "CO equivalent2 ". It is this methodology that the Interprofessional Technical Center for Air Pollution Studies (Citepa) uses to study French emissions in its Secten report.

According to this inventory, transport is the main source of greenhouse gases in metropolitan France (29.7% of emissions in CO equivalent2 in 2017), ahead of industry and the service sector (25.8%) or agriculture (18.9%). We understand why the debate is largely focused on this subject.


Useful clarification: these figures only concern GHG emissions in the national territory. They are therefore distinct from the carbon footprint, which takes into account imports.

  • Cars pollute more than heavy trucks

Second observation: private cars account for almost one-sixth of France's contribution to climate change (15.7%). On their own, they pollute more than all trucks (6.3%) and commercial vehicles that ply the roads of France (5.8%).


According to these data, other modes of transport only account for 1.9% of emissions in France. Some pollute more than others traveled distance and number of travelers equivalent. Domestic flights by plane (0.8% of GHGs) emit about 60 times more than the train (0.1%). That is why members of Parliament recently proposed to ban some of them.

International air transport from France does not appear in this inventory, but Citepa estimates that it represents the equivalent of 3.8% of additional GHG emissions, plus 1.2% of emissions. related to international maritime transport. Two data that accentuate a little more the weight of transport in the French carbon footprint.

  • The consumption of meat, an issue far from anecdotal

While agriculture is a major source of greenhouse gases (18.9% of French emissions), livestock represents more than half of this total alone (9.0%), mainly cattle.


Globally, livestock farming is responsible for 14.5% of greenhouse gas emissions according to a 2013 report by FAO, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. This proportion is higher than the Citepa calculations because it takes into account emissions from the beginning to the end of the production chain, including transport.

Beef accounts for 41% of livestock-related emissions, while it accounts for only 22% of world meat consumption.

Read: Why is meat so harmful to the planet?
  • A shared responsibility between households and businesses

To reduce greenhouse gas emissions, individuals and businesses tend to return the ball, each considering the other responsible for the bulk of the pollution.

But when we study the main contributions to climate change in France, we realize that responsibilities are shared. On road transport, passenger cars are on par with trucks and commercial vehicles. The residential sector alone accounts for 11.7% of emissions. This figure includes the domestic use of paint, fires, the use of solvents and paints … The same types of pollution sources, but this time coming from the tertiary sector, account for 8% of the total.

Difficult, however, to reach the "Carbon neutrality" without requiring drastic efforts to companies. Starting with the industry, which accounts for 17.8% of GHG emissions (of which 4.7% for chemistry alone), and heavy goods vehicles, for 6.3%.

  • Pollution "average", but largely delocalized

To put France's role in climate change into perspective, some people point out that the country represents only about 1% of global GHG emissions. An observation supported by the facts: French emissions are only a straw in comparison with those of China, the United States or India, which emitted three more CO2 than the rest of the planet in 2017, according to figures compiled on the website

This does not mean that France would be exemplary. Given that they make up 1% of the world's population, the French are more of an "average" polluter.

With 5.5 tons of CO equivalent2 emitted per capita on average in 2017, France is doing better than some developed countries like the United States (16 tons) or Australia (17 tons). It should also be remembered that these are only territorial issues: if France is not so bad at the comparison game, it is also because it imports a lot of goods that are consumed in France. France, but which generated emissions in the country where they were manufactured, and during their transport.

According to INSEE figures, the actual carbon footprint of the French was about 1.7 times higher than the national emissions in 2017. The fight against global warming therefore also involves reducing these emissions. 'Hidden'.

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