French justice gave the state three months on Thursday to justify its actions in the fight against greenhouse gas emissions, a “historic” decision for environmental defenders.
The Council of State was seized in January 2019 by the town of Grande-Synthe, whose green mayor Damien Carême (since elected as a European deputy and who has therefore left his mandate) considered his city, located on the northern coast, to be threatened. flooding by government “climate inaction”.
This is the first climate dispute to come before the highest French administrative court. The judges did not decide on the merits, but considered that the State – which had argued in writing for an outright rejection of the request – had to justify that its actions were indeed compatible with the objectives it has itself – even set for France in terms of limiting the emissions responsible for global warming.
They noted in particular that the State had set a 40% drop in emissions in 2030 compared to their 1990 level, in its “national low carbon strategies” (SNBC, the last of which dates back to April 2020).
Objectives to implement the Paris agreement aiming to limit warming to + 2 ° C compared to the pre-industrial era, concluded under the aegis of France and whose fifth anniversary falls on December 12.
– Exceeded budgets –
However, the “carbon budgets” of emissions from successive SNBCs have always been exceeded, as notably shown by the reports of the High Council for the Climate, whose judges recall that it “underlined the inadequacies of the policies carried out to reach the objectives set “. The State has therefore revised its objectives downwards, remind the judges.
On the basis of these observations, the Council of State asks the government to justify the “compatibility with the path of reduction of greenhouse gases” of its objective for 2030.
The judges thus followed the recommendations of the public rapporteur, who estimated during the hearing on November 9 that in view of the “climate emergency”, the legislation could not have “a purely programmatic objective, but indeed binding”.
“To send the applicants back to 2030 or 2050 to see if the objectives are reached would lead you to participate in this” climatic tragedy, because “the risk exists that any delay will be irreversible”, he argued.
– “Nice commitments” –
By following him, the Council of State took “a judgment which seems historic to me”, greeted Corinne Lepage, lawyer for the commune of Grande-Synthe and former Minister of Ecology. “The Council underlines that the State has obligations not of means but of results. (…) The policies should not be only pretty commitments on paper”.
A breakthrough also greeted by Hugues Hannotin, lawyer of the NGO group “the Affair of the Century”, who also initiated proceedings against the State for climate inaction and joined as “interveners” in the procedure of the northern municipality, just like the cities of Paris and Grenoble. “The state is going to have to be held to account, the programming laws are not only for the gallery.”
“Historic decision: the State must respect its commitments for the climate (and) will also have to justify the means it implements”, welcomed on Twitter “The Affair of the Century”, supported by a petition from 2 , 3 million citizens, while Greenpeace France tweeted a big “BOOM!”
The government “takes note”, reacted the Ministry of Ecological Transition, “which will obviously respond to this request, which is not a judgment on the merits but a request for proof of action”. And to defend its “offensive policy” against global warming, citing in particular the “30 billion” of the recovery plan allocated to the “green recovery”, or the future law translating the Citizen’s Convention for the climate, which “should allow France to achieve the set climate objectives “.
For Marta Torre-Schaub, teacher at the Panthéon-Sorbonne University and author of a recent book “Climate justice, trials and actions”, Thursday’s decision “really represents a step forward, even if the story is not over yet “. “The judges ask to control the action and that the State shows that it has aligned its regulatory policies well with the commitments made by France.”