The French state in the dock over climate change?

Today, fighting climate change has become a legal obligation for nations. At least that’s what Greenpeace, FNH, Oxfam and Notre Affaire à Tous are thinking as they sue the French State for non-compliance with their climate commitments, particularly regarding greenhouse gases.


9 January 2019 |

At a time in which the talk is of a weak outcome of the COP24 in Katowice (Poland), where the Paris agreement was only just upheld, the gap between governments’ capacity for action and the acceleration of climate change is ever more evident.

Following the Netherlands (condemned in 2015) and Belgium (currently in the process of being so), now it is France’s turn to be sued by the most active NGOs in terms of climate change (Greenpeace, Foundation for Nature and Humankind (FNH), Oxfam and Notre Affaire à Tous). What are they blaming France for in the so-called “Case of the Century”? Of non-compliance with their international commitments to improve the environment, but also to protect people from climate change (as promoted by the UN).

France, a bad example regarding climate change?

Today, fighting climate change has become a legal obligation for nations. At least that is what the organisations behind the latest legal action think. Their argument is based on three areas: renewable energy, reduction in energy consumption, and the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. In the case of the latter, France can only admit failure as during the last two years greenhouse gas emissions have been increasing once again. The same has happened with energy consumption within the service sector, which was reduced by just 2% between 2012 and 2016, a far cry from the 18% that should be achieved by 2023.[1]

First step: a message to the president

For the complainants, December 2018 will be remembered as the start of a legal offensive that could last several years. The first step is to formally solicit concrete action from the President and Ministers concerned in the areas mentioned. In the event of an unsatisfactory answer, the case will be brought to the administrative court for administrative failure. According to the French constitution, and international manuscripts like the European Convention on Human Rights, the French state has the obligation to protect the health, environment, and physical safety of its citizens. In this respect, we need only remember their specific commitments, like limiting global warming to 1.5 °C.

A precedent: Grande-Synthe

On the 20th of November 2018, Damien Carême, the mayor of Grande-Synthe (a city in northern France) lead the way in the attack on the French state’s environmental policies. In fact, he presented a petition on behalf of his municipality, demanding that France drastically reduce its emissions of greenhouse gasses.  It must be said that his coastal municipality, the French capital of biodiversity, is particularly exposed to the threat of rising sea levels. The case lawyer is the ex-Environment Minister, Corrine Lepage.

The discovery of disaster 

Melting glaciers and rising sea levels are signs of the importance of political action. The defenders of the planet are on the warpath, ready to condemn an investment deficit (in the order of 10 to 30 billion euros in France’s case [2]). It is the price of slowing climate change, but it is not just a question of the money involved.

Perhaps the truth is that the states have set targets that are too ambitious when compared with their capabilities and internal inertia, as large-scale industry, and society, in general, are not yet ready to make sacrifices for their well-being.

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