In June 2017, French President Emmanuel Macron pledged in his clear French accent, “Our planet will be great again.” Four years later, the story did not turn out as expected. On 3 February 2021, the Paris Administrative Court found the state guilty of failing to take appropriate measures to curb French greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, reducing the trajectory of global warming to less than 1.5 degrees by the end. Century.
Drawing evidence from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the effects of global warming from the National Observatory Reports, the court noted the “future climate change in the climate and its environmental functions”, which was triggered by illegal surplus state-induced GHG emissions. For the year 2015-2019, France released 89 million tons of CO2 in excess of its targets.
The court ruled that the state’s commitments were strict law, not just political motives. Furthermore, at the next hearing, which will take place in two months, it has demanded that an evaluation be made and any concrete steps to be taken. It is inspiring for climate justice around the world because its goal is to force governments to enforce passed legislation.
In India, the activism of the courts, especially in the case of public interest litigation, is called by the Supreme Court, in which a government is called upon to explain its wrongdoing and submit its remedial action. But in French law, such a direct and concrete ban on the state working together is truly novel and revolutionary.
‘Case of the Century’, dubbed it, was filed in December 2018 by four prominent NGOs (NGOs) against the French state: Notre Affair a Touse (‘our common concern’), Greenpeace-France, Oxfam-France and Foundation La Nature et al Home. In general terms, the question before the court is whether it is acceptable not to satisfactorily enforce the legal obligations made by the State.
The court unquestionably found that the state was legally bound by domestic and European laws, as well as international agreements such as the Paris Agreement, which was signed with great enthusiasm at COP 21 in December 2015, stating that it aims to reduce GHG emissions by 40%. Achieve carbon neutrality by 2030 and by 2050.
However, the court noted, the current trajectory shows that the objectives cannot be achieved. The wording of the judgment is clear (the state “chooses membership for certain commitments” and “self-regulation”) and refers to what is described as the new form of “rule of commitment” by which the promise is truly a promise. The court order for a second hearing on the practical steps to be taken is not about the judiciary encroaching on government turf. It is the enforcement of existing law and taking the state according to its word.
International legal instruments are often referred to as ‘soft law’ and their implementation is unequal. Only a few countries, such as Costa Rica, can show an encouraging carbon trajectory for the 2050 horizon. In fact, the February 2021 UN report warns that only 75 of the 197 signatories to the Paris Agreement submitted their five-year progress report, indicating a lack of interest in the least.
In this global context of general government indifference, climate justice cases are being reported around the world where the courts recognize the need for climate and demand that governments see effective action. According to the Sabine Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University in the United States, there are currently 1,500 cases pending in courts worldwide, a significant increase from 885 cases in 2017.
Hence the historical significance of the French decision. Officially recognizing a state’s implementation failure is its first decision worldwide and its legal responsibility for the environmental damage associated with global warming.
From now on, French citizens will be able to consult the courts in weather cases, as long as they can show damage and cause, and be inspired by climate justice petitions and courts around the world. This is a great achievement for global climate jurisprudence as states try to stand up for their responsibilities.
The ‘Case of the Century’ is also considered a case for the people and for the people. In addition to the court case, four NGOs have launched an open petition in support of their action and to create popularity. The 2.3 million signatures of the response clearly indicate that the people of France understand the problems and that their government has not done enough to fight climate change.
The Paris Administrative Court also touched on the trans-generational nature of the damage caused by climate change. This could be one of the most important questions before courts around the world in the coming years.
Caroline Juneja is a French lawyer who has lived and worked in various fields in India for 25 years.