French government faces landmark lawsuit over climate inaction


Four French NGOs, including Greenpeace France and Oxfam France, have filed a lawsuit against the French government accusing it of failing to act upon its environmental obligations, a move that was backed by 2.1 million signatures in an online petition.

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NGOs have filed a lawsuit against the French state for doing too little to fight climate change as citizens around the world step up their efforts to force stronger moves to cut carbon emissions, reports FRANCE 24.

When French President Emmanuel Macron showed up for a town hall meeting last week in the picturesque provençal town of Gréoux-les-Bains, part of a Great National Debate that has seen him engage with local communities across the country, the star guest from Paris was upstaged by a local schoolboy who, mic in hand, urged him to get serious about saving the planet.

“What do you mean by ecology, since our factories are free to discard their waste at sea, pesticides pollute our soils and thus our food, Europe sends 20,000 tonnes of junked electrical equipment to Nigeria, and plastic rubbish invades our oceans and our planet?” asked the plucky 14-year-old, who went by the name of Charlie.

“When are you going to react? You have the power to,” the youngster added. “Or do you think money will buy us a new planet?”

As video footage of the tirade went viral, the young Charlie was soon described as the “French Greta Thunberg”, after the Swedish schoolgirl whose weekly "school strike for climate" in front of Stockholm’s Parliament House has won a global following, inspiring student protests and strikes in cities across the globe.

Marie-Anne Cohendet, a professor of constitutional and environmental law at Paris 1-Sorbonne University, said the French pupil was right to call out the head of state on the issue of climate change.

“It might sound naive, since the state cannot alone fight climate change,” she told FRANCE 24. “But it can do a lot. In fact it has a duty to,” she added, noting that the French state is obliged to uphold the constitutional rights of its citizens, which include “access to a healthy and viable environment”.

With 2018 registering as France’s hottest year on record, and recent studies showing that pollution kills as many as 48,000 people each year, the evidence suggests French citizens’ access to a healthy and viable environment is being jeopardized by the greenhouse gas emissions that continue to fuel global warming.

The world’s leading climate scientists have warned that we have only a dozen years in which to limit global warming by a maximum of 1.5 degrees Celsius. Beyond that, even half a degree or warming will significantly worsen the risks of drought, floods, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people.

Growing awareness of the impending catastrophe has triggered protests across the globe as groups and individuals press their governments to take more urgent action. On Friday, French students will join youths around the world in skipping school to demonstrate against climate change. More than 140 NGOs have called for further protests the next day in cities across France.

Some pressure groups are opting for legal means to force greater action.

On Thursday, four French NGOs – Notre affaire à tous, la Fondation pour la nature et l'homme, Greenpeace France and Oxfam France – filed a lawsuit at the Paris administrative court against the French government, accusing it of failing to act upon its environmental obligations. A petition accompanying their initiative, called ‘L’Affaire du siècle’, or the case of the century, has collected a record 2.1 million signatures.

France played a key part in engineering an agreement at the Paris Climate Conference in 2015, but it has consistently fallen short of its environmental commitments since then.

Macron’s own green credentials took a hit last summer when his star environment minister, Nicolas Hulot, quit the government in protest at the lack of progress. Months later, he was forced into an embarrassing U-turn on anti-pollution fuel tax hikes in the face of country-wide "Yellow Vest" protests.

“We want the French state’s commitments and stated ambitions to be translated into concrete action,” said Noelie Coudurier, who heads Oxfam France’s climate section. “And in order to enforce this, we need the courts to recognise the state’s responsibility in failing to meet its targets,” she told FRANCE 24.

Read more of this report from FRANCE 24.


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