French court gives government three months to prove effective climate policy

In January 2019, Grande-Synthe's former mayor and now EELV MEP, Damien Carême, filed an appeal before the Council of State for "climate inaction". [Hadrian_shutterstock]

France’s highest legal body ruled on Thursday (19 November) that the government has three months to explain its “greenhouse gas emission reduction path”. EURACTIV France reports.

France’s highest legal entity, the Council of State, has ruled on an appeal lodged by the Grande-Synthe commune. The government now has three months to justify that the measures “permitting a reduction” in greenhouse gas emissions are on the right track – and this despite never having previously dealt with a climate dispute.

Legal drama

In January 2019, Grande-Synthe’s former mayor and now EELV MEP, Damien Carême, filed an appeal before the Council of State for “climate inaction”.

The northern conurbation near Dunkirk is facing land and sea flooding, and soon rising sea levels. To make matters worse, the area is home to several Seveso-classified industrial sites and the Gravelines nuclear power plant.

In January 2020, the appeal took a new turn when the four environmental associations that form part of “Affaire du siècle” alliance joined the municipality to support its claim that the climate measures implemented by the state are inadequate.

In December 2018, NGOs Notre affaire à tous, Greenpeace France, Oxfam and the Nicolas Hulot Foundation filed a similar appeal before the Paris Administrative Court, accusing France of shortcomings in the fight against global warming.

The hearing of that case is expected to take place in early 2021.

A “veritable revolution in law”

The decision is above all a “veritable revolution in law”, according to the climate NGOs, which intervened in the appeal: “Programmatic laws on climate have hitherto been regarded by successive governments and parliaments as vague promises. They now place an obligation of result on the State,” they said.

At the centre of the debate was Article L.100-4 of the Energy Code, which calls for a 40% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 (compared to 1990). These objectives, which were “soft law”, are to become “hard law”, obliging the French state to put in place concrete measures to reduce its carbon emissions.

In its annual report published in July, the High Climate Council indicated that France’s emissions between 2018 and 2019 fell by only 0.9%, which is “well below the expected decline of 1.5% per year (on average) [over the period] 2019-2023”.

The state may be ordered to take action

The High Climate Council’s opinion has not fallen on deaf ears.

The Council of State used this report as a basis for asking the government to justify the effectiveness of its climate policy within three months. If following this assessment, the Council of State considers that the trajectory of French policies is not ambitious enough, it may order the State to take action.

The Council of State’s decision comes at a pivotal political moment as a bill inspired by the work of the Citizens’ Climate Convention is currently being debated in the French parliament.

At international level, it is five years since the Paris Agreement was adopted and US President Donald Trump’s term in office is now drawing to a close. Trump decided in June 2017 to withdraw the US from the landmark agreement.

[Edited by Sam Morgan]

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