The Ministry for the Environment is the principal environmental agency. France's basic law for the protection of water resources dates from 1964. Water pollution is a serious problem in France due to the accumulation of industrial contaminants, agricultural nitrates, and waste from the nation's cities. France's cities produce about 18.7 million tons of solid waste per year. France has 180 cubic kilometers of renewable water resources with 73% used for industrial purposes and 12% used for farming. As of 1994, 20% of France's forests were damaged due to acid rain and other contaminants. The mid-1970s brought passage of laws governing air pollution, waste disposal, and chemicals. In general, environmental laws embody the "polluter pays" principle, although some of the charges imposed—for example, an aircraft landing fee—have little effect on the reduction of the pollutant (i.e., aircraft noise). Air pollution is a significant environmental problem in France, which had the world's eleventh highest level of industrial carbon dioxide emissions in 1992, totaling 362 million metric tons, a per capita level of 6.34 metric tons. Official statistics reflect substantial progress in reducing airborne emissions in major cities: the amount of sulfur dioxide in Paris decreased from 122 micrograms per cu m of air in 1971 to 54 micrograms in 1985. An attempt to ban the dumping of toxic wastes entirely and to develop the technology for neutralizing them proved less successful, however, and the licensing of approved dump sites was authorized in the early 1980s.
In 2001, 13.5% of France's total land area was protected; these areas include both national and regional parks, as well as 8 biosphere reserves, 2 World Heritage Sites, and 15 Wetlands of International Importance. From a total of 93 mammal species, 13 are threatened, as are 7 of 269 breeding bird species, 3 of 32 types of reptiles, 2 of 32 types of amphibians, and 3 species of freshwater fish from a total of 53. The greatest threat of extinction to France's flora and fauna involves its plant species. Of 4,000-plus species, 86 are endangered. Endangered or extinct species in France include the Corsican swallowtail, the gray wolf, the false ringlet butterfly, the Pyrenean desman, and the Baltic sturgeon. As of 1985, 25% of all species known to have appeared in France were extinct, endangered, or in substantial regression. Extinct species include Perrin's cave beetle and the Sardinian pika.