The state will have to be accountable for its policies to combat climate change and its commitments to reduce greenhouse gases. In an unprecedented decision issued Thursday, November 19, the Council of State gives the government three months to “Justify that the reduction path by 2030 can be respected”. France is committed to reducing its emissions by 40% compared to 1990 levels and to achieving carbon neutrality by 2050.
In January 2019, the city of Grande-Synthe (and its former mayor, now EELV MEP, Damien Carême) seized the Council of State of an appeal against “Climate inaction” from France. Exposed in particular to the risk of submersion, the municipality of the North had seized the Council of State after the refusal by the government to its request that additional measures be taken to respect the objectives resulting from the Paris agreement. The high court finds admissible the request of Grande-Synthe, considering the coastal municipality “Particularly exposed to the effects of climate change”.
A “historic” decision
Basically, the Council of State notes that while France has committed to reducing its emissions by 40% by 2030, “Over the past few years, it has regularly exceeded the emission ceilings it had set itself and that the decree of April 21, 2020 postponed most of the reduction efforts after 2020”. Also, before deciding definitively on the request, the court asks the government to “Justify, within three months, that its refusal to take additional measures is compatible with respecting the reduction path chosen to achieve the objectives set for 2030”.
Long awaited, the decision of the Council of State is qualified as“Historical” by environmental defense associations and their lawyers. “The decision of the Council of State is historic insofar as we now move to an obligation of results, and not only of means, in the fight against climate change”, comments the former Minister of the Environment, Corinne Lepage, the lawyer of Grande-Synthe.
“This transforms programmatic laws into laws of binding objectives”
At the end of the additional three-month instruction, the Council of State will ask the government to justify itself at the bar on the effectiveness of its public policies. If the high administrative court is not satisfied with the answers, “It will be able to order the State to take measures to rectify the trajectory”, falling within the regulatory field, specifies Guillaume Hannotin, lawyer at the Council of State and counsel for the Affair of the Century. For the first time, the state will have to be accountable. This transforms the programmatic laws into laws of binding objectives, which become hard law ”.
Like the cities of Paris and Grenoble, the associations of the Affair of the Century joined the appeal. After launching the eponymous petition (more than 2 million signatures in one month), the NGOs Notre affaires à tous, Greenpeace, Oxfam and the Nicolas Hulot Foundation had filed in March 2019 an appeal before the administrative court of Paris for “culpable failure ” of State. “This is great news for climate justice in the world, but also for the Affair of the Century, because the decision of the Council of State will force the administrative tribunal to prove us right on a number of points”, believes Cécilia Rinaudo, general manager of Our common business. The hearing before the Paris administrative court should not take place before spring or summer 2021, after the final decision of the Council of State.
Insufficient cuts in greenhouse gas emissions
“This decision recognizes the insufficiency and ineffectiveness of the measures taken by France in climate matters”, already rejoices Célia Gautier, energy climate manager of the Nicolas Hulot Foundation. In its annual report in July, the High Council for the Climate (HCC) concludes that France is still not on the right path to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, judging that “Climate actions [du pays] are not up to the stakes or [ses] Goals “.
Greenhouse gas emissions fell only 0.9% between 2018 and 2019, while the pace is expected to be of an annual decline of 1.5%, and 3.2% from 2025. And yet these objectives have been revised downwards by the government, against the advice of the HCC, which increases the effort to be made in the coming years. According to the European Commission, at the current rate and with existing measures, France should miss its objective of reducing emissions by – 40% by 2030.
“The decision marks a before and after in climate litigation”
“The decision of the Council of State marks a before and after in terms of climate disputes, also judge Marta Torre-Schaub, director of research (CNRS) at the Institute of legal and philosophical sciences of the Sorbonne. From now on, the judge will control the action of the administration to respect its objectives and he asks him to justify himself. “
Despite everything, according to this specialist in climate disputes, the Council of State rejected a request from the applicants: it considered that it could not rule on the obligation of climate priority, that is to say that the regulatory measures must meet emission reduction targets. The judge also considers that the Paris climate agreement has no direct effect on French law.