Court Rules France Is Responsible for Climate Inaction

Court Rules France Is Responsible for Climate Inaction
Students protest climate change as part of the global movement Fridays for Future on March 15, 2019 in Paris, France. Kiran Ridley / Getty Images

French environmental groups have won a landmark court case hailed as the "affair of the century."

In a decision Wednesday, the administrative court of Paris ruled that the French state failed to adequately act on the climate crisis.

"This is an historic win for climate justice," Jean-François Julliard, the executive director of plaintiff Greenpeace France, told The Guardian. "The 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 courts."

Greenpeace France was one of four plaintiffs, along with French Oxfam, Nicolas Hulot Foundation and Notre Affaire à Tous ("An affair that concerns all of us"), The New York Times reported. The case followed a petition that demanded the French government meet its climate goals. With more than 2.3 million signatures, it is the largest online petition in French history.

The groups initially filed a complaint with the French prime minister's office in December 2018, according to The Guardian. When they received an inadequate response, they filed a legal challenge in March 2019.

The groups claimed that the French government did not act quickly enough to reduce its emissions, dragging its feet on actions such as improving buildings' energy efficiency and developing renewable energy.

French President Emmanuel Macron has advocated for climate action on the international stage, France 24 reported. For example, he pushed the EU to increase its greenhouse gas reduction targets from 40 percent to 55 percent by 2030.

But France has still not met its commitments under the 2015 Paris agreement and delayed most of its climate action plans until after 2020, the groups said. Case in point, France needs to lower its emissions by 1.5 percent until 2025 in order to meet its targets and by 3.2 percent after that, The Guardian reported. However, France lowered its emissions by just 0.9 percent between 2018 and 2019.

The French government, meanwhile, countered that it had taken action and that it could not be held responsible for the global rise in greenhouse gas emissions.

So far, the ruling has no serious financial consequences. The court awarded the four plaintiffs the equivalent of about $1 each for "moral prejudice." The court also gave the French government two months to take appropriate steps before ordering it to lower emissions or compensating for the effects of its inaction, The New York Times reported. The government can appeal the ruling, but it is not known whether it will.

The case comes as a growing number of climate activists have taken to the courts to try and force governments to act. In the Netherlands, for instance, the Supreme Court ordered the government to reduce emissions in 2019.

Notre Affaire à Tous Director Cécilia Rinaudo said the impact of Wednesday's ruling extended beyond France.

"It's a victory for all the people who are already facing the devastating impact of the climate crisis that our leaders fail to tackle. The time has come for justice," Rinaudo told The Guardian.

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