Location and borders
The European part of France is called Metropolitan France and it is located in one of the occidental ends of Europe. It is bordered by the North Sea in the north, the English Channel in the northwest, the Atlantic Ocean in the west and the Mediterranean sea in the southeast. It borders Belgium and Luxembourg in the northeast, Germany and Switzerland in the east, Italy and Monaco in the southeast, and Spain and Andorra in the south and southwest. The borders in the south and in the east of the country are mountain ranges: the Pyrenees, the Alps and the Jura, the border in the east is from the Rhine river, while the border in the north and the northeast melts in no natural elements. Due to its shape, it is often referred to in French as l'Hexagone ("The Hexagon"). Metropolitan France includes various islands: Corsica and coastal islands. Metropolitan France is situated mostly between latitudes 41° and 51° N, and longitudes 6° W and 10° E, on the western edge of Europe, and thus lies within the northern temperate zone. Its continental part covers about 1000 km from north to south and from east to west.
France has Overseas regions across the world. These territories have varying statuses in the territorial administration of France and are located:
- In South America: French Guiana.
- In the Atlantic Ocean: Saint Pierre and Miquelon and, in the Antilles: Guadeloupe, Martinique, Saint Martin and Saint Barthélemy.
- In the Pacific Ocean: French Polynesia, the special collectivity of New Caledonia, Wallis and Futuna and Clipperton Island.
- In the Indian Ocean: Réunion island, Mayotte, Scattered Islands in the Indian Ocean, Crozet Islands, St. Paul and Amsterdam islands.
- In the Indian Ocean: Kerguelen Islands.
- In the Antarctic: Adélie Land.
France has land borders with Brazil and Suriname in French Guiana and with the Kingdom of the Netherlands through the French part of Saint Martin.
The European territory of France covers 551,500 square kilometres (212,935 sq mi), the largest among European Union members. France's total land area, with its overseas departments and territories (excluding Adélie Land), is 643,801 km2 (248,573 sq mi), 0.45% of the total land area on Earth. France possesses a wide variety of landscapes, from coastal plains in the north and west to mountain ranges of the Alps in the southeast, the Massif Central in the south central and Pyrenees in the southwest.
Due to its numerous overseas departments and territories scattered across the planet, France possesses the second-largest Exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the world, covering 11,035,000 km2 (4,260,000 mi2), just behind the EEZ of the United States (11,351,000 km2 / 4,383,000 mi2), but ahead of the EEZ of Australia (8,148,250 km2 / 4,111,312 mi2). Its EEZ covers approximately 8% of the total surface of all the EEZs of the world.
At 4,810.45 metres (15,782 ft) above sea level, the highest point in Western Europe, Mont Blanc, is situated in the Alps on the French and Italian border. France also has extensive river systems such as the Seine, the Loire, the Garonne, and the Rhone, which divides the Massif Central from the Alps and flows into the Mediterranean Sea at the Camargue. Corsica lies off the Mediterranean coast.
Most of the low-lying areas of metropolitan France excluding Corsica are located in the oceanic climate zone, Cfb, Cwb and Cfc in the Köppen classification. A small part of the territory bordering the mediterranean basin lies in the Csa and Csb zones. As the French metropolitan territory is relatively large, the climate is not uniform, giving rise to the following climate nuances:
- The west of France has strictly oceanic climate – it extends from Flanders to the Basque Country in a coastal strip several tens of kilometres wide, narrower to the north and south but wider in Brittany, which is almost entirely in this climate zone.
- The climate of the South is also oceanic but warmer.
- The climate of the Northwest is oceanic but cooler and windier.
- Away from the coast, the climate is oceanic throughout but its characteristics change somewhat. The Paris sedimentary basin and, more so, the basins protected by mountain chains show a stronger seasonal temperature variability and less rainfall during autumn and winter. Therefore, most of the territory has a semi-oceanic climate and forms a transition zone between strictly oceanic climate near the coasts and the semi-continental climate of the north and centre-east (Alsace, plains of the Saône, the middle part of the Rhône, Dauphiné, Auvergne and Savoy).
- The Mediterranean and the lower Rhône valley experience a Mediterranean climate due to the effect of mountain chains isolating them from the rest of the country and the resulting Mistral and Tramontana winds.
- The mountain (or alpine) climate is confined to the Alps, the Pyrenees and the summits of the Massif Central, the Jura and the Vosges.
- In the overseas regions, there are three broad types of climate:
- A tropical climate in most overseas regions: high constant temperature throughout the year with a dry and a wet season.
- An equatorial climate in French Guiana: high constant temperature with even precipitation throughout the year.
- A subpolar climate in Saint Pierre and Miquelon and in most of the French Southern and Antarctic Lands: short mild summers and long very cold winters.
France was one of the first countries to create an environment ministry, in 1971. Although it is one of the most industrialised countries in the world, France is ranked only 17th by carbon dioxide emissions, behind less populous nations such as Canada or Australia. This is because France decided to invest in nuclear power following the 1973 oil crisis, which now accounts for 75% of its electricity production and results in less pollution.
Like all European Union members, France agreed to cut carbon emissions by at least 20% of 1990 levels by the year 2020, compared to the U.S. plan to reduce emissions by 4% of 1990 levels. As of 2009[update], French carbon dioxide emissions per capita were lower than that of China's. The country was set to impose a carbon tax in 2009 at 17 euros per tonne of carbon emitted, which would have raised 4 billion euros of revenue annually. However, the plan was abandoned due to fears of burdening French businesses.
Forests account for 28% of France's land area, and are some of the most diverse in Europe, comprising more than 140 species of trees. There are nine national parks and 46 natural parks in France, with the government planning to convert 20% of its Exclusive Economic Zone into a Marine Protected Area by 2020. A regional nature park (French: parc naturel régional or PNR) is a public establishment in France between local authorities and the French national government covering an inhabited rural area of outstanding beauty, in order to protect the scenery and heritage as well as setting up sustainable economic development in the area. A PNR sets goals and guidelines for managed human habitation, sustainable economic development, and protection of the natural environment based on each park's unique landscape and heritage. The parks foster ecological research programmes and public education in the natural sciences. As of 2014[update] there are 49 PNRs in France.
According to the 2012 Environmental Performance Index conducted by Yale and Columbia, France was the sixth-most environmentally conscious country in the world, one place higher than the previous report in 2010.
Geology, topography and hydrography
Metropolitan France has a wide variety of topographical sets and natural landscapes. Large parts of the current territory of France were raised during several tectonic episodes like the Hercynian uplift in the Paleozoic Era, during which the Armorican Massif, the Massif Central, the Morvan massif, the Vosges and Ardennes ranges and the island of Corsica were formed. These massifs delineate several sedimentary basins such as the Aquitaine basin in the southwest and the Paris basin in the north, the latter including several areas of particularly fertile ground such as the silt beds of Beauce and Brie. Various routes of natural passage, such as the Rhône valley, allow easy communications. The Alpine, Pyrenean and Jura mountains are much younger and have less eroded forms. The highest peak of the Alps is Montblanc at 4809 metres above sea level. Although 60% of municipalities are classified as having seismic risks, these risks remain moderate. The coastlines offer contrasting landscapes: mountain ranges along the French Riviera, coastal cliffs such as the Côte d'Albâtre, and wide sandy plains in the Languedoc. The river system of France comprises the four major rivers Loire, Seine, Garonne and Rhône and their tributaries, whose combined catchment includes over 62% of the metropolitan territory. Other water courses drain towards the Meuse and Rhine along the north-eastern borders. France has 11 million square kilometres of marine waters within three oceans under its jurisdiction, of which 97% are overseas.
The French republic is divided into 18 regions (located in Europe and overseas), 5 overseas collectivities, 1 overseas territory, 1 special collectivity : New Caledonia and 1 uninhabited island directly under the authority of the Minister of Overseas France : Clipperton.
Since 2016 France is mainly divided into 18 administrative regions: 13 regions in metropolitan France (including the territorial collectivity of Corsica), and five located overseas. The regions are further subdivided into 101 departments,which are numbered mainly alphabetically. This number is used in postal codes and was formerly used on vehicle number plates. Among the 101 departments of France, five (French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Mayotte, and Réunion) are in overseas regions (ROMs) that are also simultaneously overseas departments (DOMs), enjoy exactly the same status as metropolitan departments and are an integral part of the European Union.
The 101 departments are subdivided into 335 arrondissements, which are, in turn, subdivided into 2,054 cantons. These cantons are then divided into 36,658 communes, which are municipalities with an elected municipal council. Three communes—Paris, Lyon and Marseille—are subdivided into 45 municipal arrondissements.
The regions, departments and communes are all known as territorial collectivities, meaning they possess local assemblies as well as an executive. Arrondissements and cantons are merely administrative divisions. However, this was not always the case. Until 1940, the arrondissements were territorial collectivities with an elected assembly, but these were suspended by the Vichy regime and definitely abolished by the Fourth Republic in 1946.
- Overseas territories and collectivities
In addition to the 18 regions and 101 departments, the French Republic has five overseas collectivities (French Polynesia, Saint Barthélemy, Saint Martin, Saint Pierre and Miquelon, and Wallis and Futuna), one sui generis collectivity (New Caledonia), one overseas territory (French Southern and Antarctic Lands), and one island possession in the Pacific Ocean (Clipperton Island).
Overseas collectivities and territories form part of the French Republic, but do not form part of the European Union or its fiscal area (with the exception of St. Bartelemy, which seceded from Guadeloupe in 2007). The Pacific Collectivities (COMs) of French Polynesia, Wallis and Futuna, and New Caledonia continue to use the CFP france whose value is strictly linked to that of the euro. In contrast, the five overseas regions used the French franc and now use the euro.