In what’s been called an “historic win for climate justice”, a French court on Wednesday ruled the state had failed to take proper action to tackle the climate crisis.
Handed down by the Paris Administrative Court, the decision holds France legally responsible for its commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It also finds the state liable for "ecological damage" linked to global warming.
The four NGOs behind the landmark case – Greenpeace France, Oxfam France, the Nicolas Hulot Foundation and Notre Affaire a Tous (Our Shared Responsibility) – said the move set a welcome precedent.
“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,” said Jean-François Julliard, executive director of Greenpeace.
Using the hashtag #LAffaireDuSiecle, or "the Case of the Century", Oxfam France tweeted that climate inaction by French state was now recognised as "illegal".
The NGOs are hoping for an even stricter judgment in the spring, when judges will decide if France should be forced into adopting tougher environmental measures.
The government on Wednesday released a statement acknowledging the court’s ruling, while also outlining a series of climate actions that it intends to take in the future.
“The government remains fully engaged in taking up the climate challenge and leaving no one on the side of the road in this indispensable transition,” the statement said.
In a separate case last November, France’s top administrative court gave the government a three-month deadline to show it is taking action to meet its commitments on global warming.
The Council of State, which rules on disputes over public policies, said: “While France has committed itself to reducing its emissions by 40 percent by 2030 compared to 1990 levels, it has, in recent years, regularly exceeded the 'carbon budgets' it had set itself.”
Although President Emmanuel Macron vowed to speed up environmental policies – promising an extra 15 billion euros to fight global warming over the next two years – critics say the state has failed to produce the policies necessary to meet its climate targets.
The government has also been slammed for a “lack of ambition” over a draft bill that green groups said failed to implement the proposals of 150 citizens who were asked to devise emissions-cutting proposals for the country.
Meanwhile well-known climatologist Jean Jouzel said a Météo France report this week warning of France’s vulnerability to climate change highlighted the urgency for the country to meet its climate commitments.
“France needs to work three times faster to reduce its greenhouse emissions,” he told Le Monde.