French president Emmanuel Macron condemned a lawsuit to force the French government to live up to its climate commitmentsFrench President Emmanuel Macron condemned the lawsuit that aims to force the French government to live up to international climate commitments. Photo credit: Anthony Kwan/Getty Images

By Karen Savage

Four environmental organizations filed suit against the French government for failing to live up to its commitments to the Paris Climate Agreement and other national and international agreements.

The suit, which was filed in the Administrative Court of Paris on Thursday, alleges that France has violated its duty by failing to taking action to limit global temperature rise to below 2 degrees Celsius.

The organizations—Oxfam, Greenpeace, Fondation Nicolas Hulot pour la Nature et l’Homme and Notre Affair à Tous—also say the French government has repeatedly postponed implementing policies to curb emissions, as required by its national climate policy,  and has failed to respect international commitments.

The organizations are asking the French government to fully implement its policies and to abide by its climate agreements. They are also asking for compensation for harm done to their members and the environment.

“The state is not living up to commitments it has made itself, especially in the context of the Paris agreement of 2015,” said Cecile Duflot, a former minister and current Executive Director of Oxfam France.

“The state is a litigant like any other, our goal is for it to be condemned to act,” she told France Inter radio.

France, like countries around the world, is already feeling the impacts of climate change, including intense heat waves and increased rainfall events.

According to the Germanwatch Global Climate Risk Index, France is the most vulnerable of all Europe countries to climate change and the 18th most affected in the world.

Plaintiff organization Fondation Nicolas Hulot pour la Nature et l’Homme was founded by Nicolas Hulot, a former environment minister who resigned last year due to what he considered France’s failure to implement climate and other environmental policies. The organization has gathered more than 2 million signatures in a petition supporting the litigation.

The litigation was denounced by French President Emmanuel Macron, who is currently in Nairobi for the One Planet Summit, a gathering of high-level officials, CEO’s and young people working to put forward initiatives designed to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement.

“The solution is in all of us. On this issue, it is not the People vs. The Government. This nonsense should stop,” Macron said. “We all must act—governments must act, major enterprises must act, investors must act, citizens must act—all together.”

The plaintiffs say Macron and the French government are all talk, but little action. They also say putting the onus on individual citizens is a distraction from the government’s failure to adequately regulate carbon emitters.

“We are not reducing greenhouse gas emissions in this country, but they’re going up by 6 percent more than it should be between 2015 and 2018,” said Paul Mougeolle, an attorney for Notre Affair à Tous.

He said for the suit to succeed, the plaintiffs must convince the court that the state has a duty to combat climate change.

“That’s not just a legal argument but it will also have practical effects, because if you recognize it, you must comply with the latest science,” he said. The organizations will have to show that while France’s greenhouse gas emissions are relatively low—just 1.2 percent of total global emissions— they are still causing major harm to the climate.

The organizations sent a letter of formal notice to Prime Minister Edouard Philippe and 12 members of the government in December describing climate impacts that France is already experiencing and explaining how the government’s failure to take action endangers the welfare of French citizens. They urged the government to adopt specific climate adaptation and mitigation strategies.  

Francois de Rugy, the French minister of ecological and solidarity transition, responded in February, saying the government is already taking action. He said also said French citizens must change their behavior.

“We waited a long time for a response from the government but it has announced no new far-reaching measures,” said Marie Pochon, a spokeswoman for Notre Affaire A Tous.

Increasingly, citizens across the globe are asking courts to force governments to take more immediate and urgent action to reduce carbon emissions.

Three families in Germany filed suit last October to compel the government to comply with emission reduction targets. The European Union is facing a suit by 10 families who filed suit last June, alleging the EU’s current climate targets aren’t enough to protect their rights to life, health, occupation and property. A British court recently rejected an appeal by the nonprofit climate justice group Plan B to force the government to strengthen its climate targets. Twenty-one young plaintiffs in the landmark constitutional climate lawsuit, Juliana v. United States, hope to force the U.S. government to implement a science-based plan to protect the climate for future generations.  

Mougeolle said the new case differs from other suits because there are no individual plaintiffs, only non-governmental organizations, which in France have the right to demand an end to the ecological harms.

“We are demanding not only repair of the ecological damage, but also the prevention of future harm,” said Mougeolle.

The suit is anticipated to take about two years to work its way through the court. If the claims are rejected, the organizations will be allowed to appeal to a higher court.

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