French state convicted for failure to address climate crisis

French climate activists
Source: Jeanne Menjoulet (Via: Wikimedia)
The French state has been held accountable in court for their lack of respect for their promised commitment to address the climate crisis.

By Rowenna Hoskin | Science Editor

The French state has been held accountable in court for their lack of respect for their promised commitment to address the climate crisis.

A Parisian court has convicted the state on the basis that they have broken their promise of combating the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions.

In what has been hailed as a historic ruling, the court found the state to be guilty of “non-respect of its engagements” aimed at tackling the climate crisis.

The legal case was brought by four French environmental groups after 2.3 million people signed a petition.

“This is a historic win for climate justice. 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,” said Jean-François Julliard, the executive director of Greenpeace France, one of the plaintiffs.

The judgement is a push in the right direction to force action in regards to global warming, it will be used to push the French state to act against the climate emergency as they promised.

Cécilia Rinaudo, the director of Notre Affaire à Tous (It’s Everyone’s Business), another plaintiff, said it was an “immense victory” for climate activists around the world.

“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 said.

“This legal action has brought millions of people together in a common fight: the fight for our future. The judge’s landmark decision proves that France’s climate inaction is no longer tolerable, it is illegal. But the fight is not over. Recognising the state’s inaction is only a first step towards the implementation of concrete and efficient measures to combat climate change.”

The court determined that the state should pay compensation for the “ecological damage”, that they “should be held liable for part of this damage if it had failed to meet its commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

A claim for symbolic compensation was not upheld, instead saying that compensation should be made “in kind”, with damages awarded “only if the reparation measure were impossible or insufficient.”

Individuals were ruled as being entitled to seek compensation themselves for the ecological damages caused by France’s failure to comply with the targets it had set for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It said that the state has two months to respond and a further investigation was necessary.

In a symbolic gesture, the court awarded each organisation a €1 for “moral prejudice.” It labelled the state’s failure to honour its climate commitments as being “detrimental to the collective interest.”

The four NGOs that took the state to court – including Greenpeace france and Oxfam France – claimed the win to be “revolutionary.” The four organisations filed the case back in 2018 with the French prime minister’s office in December 2018 but received an ‘inadequate response’ triggering them to file a legal case in March 2019.

In response to the ruling, the French government has pledged to reduce the country’s greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by 2030 and reach carbon neutrality by 2050.

These are not new pledges, they are synonymous with the pledges that countries involved in the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement made. The problem is, according to the NGOs, that France is exceeding the limits of its carbon budget and there is not enough being done to improve the energy efficiency of buildings or in the development of renewable energy.

Carbon emissions have been proven to directly affect the physical and mental health of citizens. The government’s failure to address these factors is thus directly affecting the quality of life of people in France.

France’s greenhouse gas emission dropped by 0.9% in 2018-19, when the annual drop needed to reach its targets is 1.5% until 2025 and 3.2% afterwards.

The French government rejected the NGOs accusations of inaction and called for the court to refuse the claim for compensation. It argued that it could not be held accountable for climate change when they are not responsible for all global emissions.

While it is certainly true that every western country contributes massively to the global emissions, it is easy to blame others while the matter is still relevant to France’s actions. Only the European Union and another 7 states (out of the 194 that originally signed) are on track to meet the agreed goals – it is a global failure, France is correct.

However, to be able to demonstrate that governments will be held accountable for their actions – or in this case inaction – points towards a massive power shift. It signifies that governments cannot make promises to acquire votes but must follow through and improve their action towards the climate emergency that is fast enveloping the world.

This victory is that of the people, the climate activists who signed the petition that kickstarted the court action. It demonstrates a general consensus that more must be done to save the planet. Time is not our friend, it is swiftly running out and if we cannot change our behaviour the world as we know it will be replaced with an uninhabitable Earth. 

  Science and Technology Rowenna Hoskin

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