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France’s top administrative court has given 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 that “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.”
It also noted that President Emmanuel Macron's government had, in an April decree, at the height of the first wave of Covid-19 infections, deferred much of the reduction effort beyond 2020.
The French government, which brokered the landmark Cop21 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change, was hauled before the Council of State by Grande-Synthe, a northern coastal town that is particularly exposed to the effects of climate change.
In January 2019, Damien Careme, the mayor of Grande-Synthe, petitioned the Council of State, complaining about what he called the government’s “climate inaction”.
Careme said his town of 23,000 people, which is built on land reclaimed from the sea, risked being flooded by rising ocean levels.
The town’s case was backed by the cities of Paris and Grenoble, as well as by several environmental NGOs including Oxfam France and Greenpeace France.
Three months to justify action
Before issuing a final ruling on the matter, the council gave the government three months to justify “how its refusal to take additional measures is compatible with respect to . . . the targets set for 2030.”
Corinne Lepage, a former environment minister and a lawyer for the town of Grande-Synthe, hailed the decision as “historic”. The ruling means that “policies must be more than nice commitments on paper,” she said.
Despite Emmanuel Macron’s 2017 promise to “make our planet great again” – a swipe at global-warming denier US President Donald Trump and his pledge to "make America great again" – France is far off track to meet its obligations under the 2015 treaty.
France’s High Council on Climate, an independent body tasked with advising the government on how to reduce carbon emissions, said in a report this year that emissions had fallen by only 0.9 percent in 2019.
That left France “far from the 3 percent annual reduction expected from 2025 onwards to remain on track for carbon neutrality,” it said.