Court rules France failed to respect its climate change goal

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FILE – In this Friday, Nov. 30, 2018 file photo smoke rises from a factory as a truck loaded with cars crosses a bridge in Paris, France. A court on Wednesday Feb.3, 2021 ruled that the French state failed to take sufficient action to fight climate change in a case brought by a group of nongovernmental organizations who billed the action the “case of the century.” (AP Photo/Michel Euler, File)

PARIS (AP) — A Paris court on Wednesday ruled that the French state failed to take sufficient action to fight climate change in a case brought by four nongovernmental organizations.

The NGOs cheered the decision as “historic” for their country and a boon to those elsewhere using the law to push their governments in the fight against global warming. The four organizations are Greenpeace France, Oxfam France, the Nicolas Hulot Foundation and Notre Affaire a Tous (Our Shared Responsibility).

In its ruling, the administrative court recognized ecological “deficiencies” linked to climate change and held the French state responsible for failing to fully meet its goals in reducing greenhouse gases.

The government said in a statement that it “took note” of the decision, and provided a list of actions in the pipeline to “allow France to respect in the future the objectives it set.”

Government spokesman Gabriel Attal went further, acknowledging at a regular briefing that the country has fallen behind on its goals.

“It’s perfectly fair to say that our country has been lagging behind these past years in the fight against climate change,” he responded to a question. But he added that “we are tackling these issues.” Among other things, he cited 30 billion euros earmarked for greener energy policies.

A bill is being introduced next week in the Cabinet that includes measures to support renovation of high energy-consuming buildings and encourage greener transport.

President Emmanuel Macron, who has been very vocal about his support for climate change action, pushed in December for beefing up the European Union’s 2030 targets to reduce greenhouse gases by at least 55% compared with 1990 levels — up from the previous 40% target.

But Oxfam France, Greenpeace France and the two other organizations contended that Macron’s lobbying for global climate action is not backed up by sufficient domestic measures to curb emissions blamed for global warming.

France is missing its national targets that had been set under the 2015 Paris Agreement to curb climate change, and the country has delayed most of its efforts until after 2020.

The court ruled that there was a link between ecological damage and deficiencies by the state in respecting its own goals. It decided that awarding money wasn’t appropriate in this case. Instead, reparations should center on fixing the failure to respect goals for lowering greenhouse gases.

The court gave itself two months to study measures to repair the problem and stop it from getting worse. It did, however, ask the French state to pay each of the four organizations that brought the action a symbolic euro each, a common practice in France.

The four NGOs that brought the case called the decision “a first historic victory for the climate” as well as a “victory for truth,” saying that until now France has denied the “insufficiency of its climate policies.”

The decision “shows the state has a special responsibility in the climate fight … Emmanuel Macron, more than other heads of state, spoke out strongly on the subject. Today, he cannot remain silent,” Greenpeace France chief Jean-Francois Julliard said at a news conference.

The decision “goes beyond French borders,” he added, because it can help those fighting such battles in other countries.

The French NGOs got advice from colleagues in the Netherlands where the Dutch Supreme Court upheld a judgment for the Urgenda environmental group that ordered the government to cut emissions by at least 25% by the end of 2020 compared to 1990 levels. The government responded with a package of measures that included shutting or reducing capacity at coal-fired power stations and subsidizing moves to promote sustainable energy.

Urgenda director Marjan Minnesma told The Associated Press on Wednesday that it’s not yet clear if the Dutch government achieved the emissions reduction mandated by the court, but that the economic slowdown caused by the coronavirus helped and they may be “nearly there.” Minnesma said she is “super happy” with the French case.

“Fantastic, because it is a big country and if you have the Paris accord to your name, then it’s bizarre that you don’t achieve your goals,” she said.

Climate Action Network, a Brussels-based coalition, also hailed the decision. Director Wendel Trio said in a statement that litigation, while long, is worth it because it “is forcing European countries to act upon what they committed” to in the 2015 Paris climate accord.

Former lawmaker and minister Cecile Duflot, now head of Oxfam France, said Wednesday’s decision will be especially good news “for children born today who will live through catastrophic weather reports.”

The decision explains “not only how the state did not keep its commitments, it explains the gravity of climate change … and that things can be done otherwise,” she said.

“It is the first big climate trial (in France) and it has been won,” she said.

The NGOs hailed the more than 2.3 million people who signed a petition launched in 2018 to support the court action, saying that the victory was theirs too.

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Mike Corder in The Hague, Netherlands and Sylvie Corbet in Paris contributed to this report.

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