Climate justice: the French Government must refute its inaction on climate change
In an unprecedented decision handed down on Thursday 19 November, the Council of State, France’s supreme administrative court, gave France three months to "justify that the path to reduction by 2030 can be respected".
The press release of the French Council of State begins with these strong words: “For the first time, the Council of State is being called upon to rule on a case concerning compliance with commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions".
The case that led to this historic decision began in January 2019 when the town of Grande- Synthe, in the north of France, and its former mayor, now a Member of the European Parliament, brought an appeal before the Council of State against France's "climate inaction". This followed the French government's refusal to respond to the claimants' request to take additional measures to comply with the objectives of the Paris agreement, whose fifth anniversary will be celebrated on 12 December.
The High Court deemed Grande-Synthe's application - but not that of Damien Carême - admissible, deeming that the coastal community was "particularly exposed to the effects of climate change" and in particular to risks of submersion.
With regard to the legal scope of the UNFCCC and the Paris Agreement, invoked by the claimants, the French Council of State applied a classic grid, noting that these agreements leave it up to each signatory State to take national measures to ensure their implementation. In France, the objective of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 40% between 1990 and 2030 is laid down in Article L. 100-4 of France’s Energy Code, which expressly mentions the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Paris Agreement, and aims at the effective implementation of the principles laid down by that convention and agreement. In this respect, in order to effectively achieve this reduction objective, Article L. 222-1-A of the French Environmental Code entrusts a decree with the task of setting a national ceiling on greenhouse gas emissions for the period 2015-2018 and then for each consecutive five-year period. The court specified that the objectives that France set for itself in this respect must be read with these agreements in mind in order to give them full scope under French law.
The Council of State notes that although France has committed to reducing its emissions by 40% by 2030, "in recent years it has regularly exceeded the emission ceilings it had set for itself and the decree of 21 April 2020 has postponed most of the reduction efforts until after 2020". Therefore, before giving a final ruling on the claim, the court asks the government to "justify, within three months, that its refusal to take additional measures is compatible with compliance to the means chosen to achieve the reduction objectives set for 2030".
If the justifications provided by the Government are not sufficient, the Council of State may then grant the request of the municipality and annul the refusal to take additional measures allowing it to meet the planned trajectory to reach the -40% target by 2030.
Photo: Peter hellberg cc by 2.0