The State must respect its commitments in terms of reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The Council of State gives it three months to justify the means it is implementing to achieve the objective of reducing emissions by 40% by 2030. The administrative judges thus followed the recommendations of the public rapporteur, during the hearing of November 9, which then underlined that “the heart of the matter is the calendar of actions, since there is indeed a climate emergency today”.
Respect the objectives resulting from the Paris agreement
This is the first time that the Council of State has had to rule on a case relating to the respect of commitments in terms of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In January 2019, the municipality of Grande-Synte, supported by the cities of Paris and Grenoble, as well as by the organizations of the Affair of the Century (Notre affaires à tous, Oxfam, Greenpeace and Fondation Nicolas Hulot), had seized the Council State following the government’s refusal to take additional measures to meet the objectives of the Paris Agreement. Such a request was made at the end of 2018 by Damien Carême, the ecological mayor of Grande-Synthe, a coastal town in the North, particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change. The state’s climate inaction exposed the city to the risk of submersion, he argued.
The government had, in a decree of April 21, postponed after 2,020 and in particular after 2023, part of the effort to reduce emissions to be carried out. The Council of State noted that this postponement worsened the fact that “France, in recent years, has regularly exceeded the emission ceilings it had set itself”. For the period 2015-2018, the average reduction in emissions was 1% per year, while the fixed ceiling imposed a reduction of around 2.2% per year.
“A real revolution in law”
“The decision of the Council of State reshuffles the maps of France’s climate policy. By affirming the binding nature of the greenhouse gas emission reduction targets contained in the law, the highest administrative court is facing the State with its responsibilities in the climate crisis. It is a real revolution in law ”, commented, in their first reaction, the organizations of the Affair of the century. Indeed, the State is now bound by an obligation of result in its climate policy. “Soft law becomes hard law”, analyzes the Affair of the Century.
The judges repeatedly used the term “effectiveness”. “Which means that policies should not just be pretty commitments on paper,” concludes Corinne Lepage, lawyer for the municipality of Grande-Synthe.
The essential role of NGOs and local communities
This decision also confirms “the essential role that local authorities or NGOs can play in court,” underlines, for her part, Mathilde Dupré from the Veblen Institute for ecological transition.
The Council of State will rule again in March 2021, following the assessment carried out on the State’s commitments. Its decision will then be decisive in the face of the state’s climate inaction. The town of Grande-Synthe and the organizations of the Affaire du Siècle indicated that they would call on experts to file a new brief in order to obtain “that an injunction to act be pronounced at the end of this new period of instruction ”.