Activists say the ‘Historic Victory’ sends a clear signal to the world that failure to take sufficient measures to halt climate change will not be tolerated.
Case of the century: the French state found guilty of climate inaction
A Paris court has found France guilty of failing to meet its own Paris climate accord commitments in what activists hail as a ‘Historic Victory’ that sends a clear signal to the world that inaction will not be tolerated. After two years of proceedings, the Paris administrative court ruled on Wednesday 3 February, that the French state was guilty of “faulty deficiency” for not having taken the necessary steps to reduce the country’s greenhouse gas emissions as it has undertaken to do as part of the international fight against climate change.
French state found guilty of climate inaction in “the case of the century”
The French state has been found guilty of climate inaction in what campaigners have dubbed “the case of the century”.
On Wednesday (3 February 2021), DeSmog reported that the Paris administrative court had concluded France has failed to do enough to meet its own commitments on the climate crisis and is legally responsible for the ensuing ecological damage.
France is the third European country where legal action by campaigners has highlighted significant failings in state action on climate change and forced politicians to act, after the landmark Urgenda case in the Netherlands in 2019 and the Irish Supreme Court’s decision in the national Climate Case last year.
Jean-François Julliard, Executive Director of Greenpeace France – one of the four NGOs bringing the case – described the ruling as a “historic win for climate justice”.
“This decision not only takes into consideration what scientists say and what people want from French public policies, but it should also inspire people all over the world to hold their governments accountable for climate change in their own courts,” she said.
“For governments the writing is on the wall: climate justice doesn’t care about speeches and empty promises, but about facts.” Continued below…
France’s own High Council on Climate analysed the country’s progress and found it lacking
L’Affaire du Siècle (Case of the Century), as it was described by NGOs was brought by Greenpeace France, together with Oxfam France, the Nicolas Hulot Foundation and Notre Affaire à Tous, in December 2018.
The groups filed a legal complaint, saying France was not on track to meet its then target of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by 2030 compared to 1990 levels, its minimum commitment as an EU member. Since then, this target has been raised to 55% for all EU member states, but it is not yet clear how President Emmanuel Macron will deliver this given France’s track record on cutting emissions.
France’s own High Council on Climate has analysed the country’s progress and found it lacking, with emissions substantially exceeding the first two carbon budgets. France had pledged to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 1.5% each year, but they fell by only 0.9% from 2018 to 2019. The Climate Change Performance Index also shows France’s climate progress slowing, with limited advances in increasing the share of renewables and in decarbonising transport.
The court judgment ruled that: “Consequently, the state must be regarded as having ignored the first carbon budget and did not carry out the actions that it itself had recognised as being necessary to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”
The court said it would not be appropriate to fine the government in this case but would publish measures to fix the problem in two months’ time.
“Moral damages” compensation of €1 each paid to the four NGOs
Instead of fines, the French government was ordered to pay one symbolic Euro to each of the four NGOs that brought the case for compensation of “moral damages” – essentially harm to their reputation.
Each of these organisations have worked for years to address global warming through campaigning and advocacy, the judgment noted, and “the faulty shortcomings of the state” in respecting this work “have damaged the collective interests” they defend.
Greenpeace notes that the recognition of ecological damage against a public body in the administrative courts marks a significant moment for environmental law in France.
The public rapporteur Amélie Fort-Besnard – an independent magistrate who analyses existing legislation to guide the court’s decision – described the case as France’s “first major climate trial”, although the French coastal town Grande-Synthe has also taken the government to court for failing to comply with the Paris Agreement.
Wendel Trio, director of Climate Action Network (CAN) Europe, said climate litigation cases take time “but they force governments to increase climate action through a court order”.
the French state must now take concrete steps to meet its climate goals and lower emissions
The case was brought before the court after a petition launched in 2018 gathered more than 2.3 million signatures in less than three weeks — the most successful in French history, according to organisers.
GlobalCitizen reported the campaign then benefitted from the support of many prominent French celebrities — including actresses Marion Cotillard, Juliette Binoche, and many others — lending a voice to it.
Among their demands, the activists called for concrete actions to address France’s delay in meeting its climate targets set by the Paris Agreement. In particular, they advocated for a substantial reduction in greenhouse gas emissions; better protection for French people “in the face of the impacts of climate change”; and for leaders to be held accountable for “intolerable inaction”.
The ruling issued by the Paris court takes these claims into serious account by asking for action rather than monetary compensation for environmental damage. Alongside the symbolic amount of €1 in compensation for “moral prejudice”, the French state will most importantly need to now take concrete steps to meet its climate goals and lower its greenhouse emissions, the court reportedly said.
Activists welcomed the court’s decision, which they had long hoped would send a clear signal to the French government — and the rest of the world.
“This decision marks a first historic victory for the environment,” the four groups said in a statement. “With this extraordinary ruling, as of today, direct victims of climate change in France will be able to claim compensation.”
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