France Gets Sued by Own Citizens for Failing to Fight Climate Change
The lawsuit is based on binding and non-binding international documents but also on legal precedents abroad including the Urgenda Case in the Netherlands.
A group of French NGOs have filed a lawsuit against the state of France for failing to combat climate change, underscoring international efforts by activists to force governments to do more on the pressing global issue.
On Thursday, four French NGOs – Notre affaire à tous, La Fondation pour la nature et l’homme, Greenpeace France and Oxfam France – filed a lawsuit at the Paris administrative court against the French government, France24 reports.
They accused France of failing to act upon its environmental obligations. Their lawsuit is accompanied by a petition called ‘L’Affaire du siècle’ or the Case of the Century, that has collected a record 2.1 million signatures.
On Friday, French students will join youths from around the world in skipping school to demonstrate against climate change, while more than 140 NGOs have urged more climate change protests to take place in cities across France the next day.
Not unlike many other parts of the globe, in 2018, France saw its hottest year on record. As many as 48,000 are estimated to be killed by pollution each year, suggesting that French citizens’ access to a healthy living environment is being compromised by the same greenhouse gases that also cause global warming.
Activists remind the warnings of leading global climate scientists that people have only about a dozen years to restrict global warming to a rise of up 1.5 degrees Celsius. Should the Earth’s average temperature grow beyond that, millions of people would put at risk from extreme heat, poverty, and various natural calamities.
“It might sound naive, since the state cannot alone fight climate change. But it can do a lot. In fact it has a duty to,” said Marie-Anne Cohendet, a professor of constitutional and environmental law at Paris 1-Sorbonne University, regarding the lawsuit against the French government.
In her words, the French state is obliged to uphold the constitutional rights of its citizens, which include “access to a healthy and viable environment”.
“We want the French state’s commitments and stated ambitions to be translated into concrete action,” Noelie Coudurier, who heads Oxfam France’s climate section, is quoted as saying.
“And in order to enforce this, we need the courts to recognise the state’s responsibility in failing to meet its targets,” she added.
“Our entire economic model is in need of an overhaul. It is up to the state to come up with a binding framework to achieve this,” the activist elaborated.
The French NGOs are basing their legal action on the European Convention on Human Rights, the 2004 Environmental Charter, the Kyoto Protocol, the Paris Agreement as well as legal precedents set outside France.
The most notable of these has been the Urgenda case in the Netherlands, in which the environmental rights group Urgenda representing some 900 Dutch citizens successfully sentenced the Dutch government in 2018 to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by no less than 25% by 2020, the so called Urgenta Target.
Other cases of citizens suing the authorities to force them to tackle climate change have been heard in Colombia, the USA, and Pakistan.
While the 2015 Paris Agreement, in which France played a central role, called for capping global warming at “well below” 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), the Earth is presently on track to heat up by at least 4 degrees Celsius as a result of human activity.
In the meantime, French President Emmanuel Macron’s green credentials have been compromised by policy reversals caused by the Yellow Vest protests.
“It is not up to administrative courts to set specific objectives for the state,” said Marta Torre-Schaub, a Senior Fellow at the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS), regarding the climate change lawsuit in France.
Yet, the expert in climate litigation said the lawsuit could still be helpful by raising awareness on climate change and legal action possibilities.
“Under French law, we already have the instruments required to enforce climate action. And if the administration fails to meet its obligations, then French citizens are perfectly right to go to court,” she is quoted as saying.
(Banner image: Case of the Century on Twitter)