The French Council of State (Conseil d’Etat) ordered the country’s federal government to take accelerated action against climate change on Thursday, threatening possible fines for noncompliance.
The Council—which provides legal advice to the executive and acts as the Supreme Court for Administrative Justice—agreed on three important matters. First, France is exceeding its emissions budgets. Following the 2015 signing of the Paris Agreement, France (along with other European Union member states) committed to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent compared to 2005 levels, by 2030.
France assigned itself an even more ambitious goal of 40 percent reduction by 2030, compared to 1990 levels. To achieve this objective, the government adopted an official reduction trajectory plan with decreasing carbon budgets for each, spanning four periods: 2015–2018, 2019–2023, 2024–2028 and 2029–2033.
Secondly, the government failed to take more stringent measures to meet its own goals, and, thirdly, its justifications for not doing so were insufficient.
The Council’s decision thus ordered the government to “take all necessary measures to achieve the objective resulting from the Paris Agreement before March 31, 2022.” While the Council did note the relative decrease in greenhouse gas emissions from 2019 to 2020, it cited the COVID-19 pandemic as the driver behind the changes, not governmental policies. The Council reminded the government it has the power to collect fines and award damages.
The Council also cited heightened pressures on France to come into compliance. In April, the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union jointly raised the objective of reducing greenhouse gas emissions from 40 to 55 percent compared to 1990 levels. The new law, commonly known as the European Green Deal, went into legal effect in June.
Thursday’s decision has been much anticipated. In late 2018, the coastal municipality of Grande-Synthe alleged France was missing its national targets and requested President Emmanuel Macron and the government “take additional measures to bend the curve of emissions produced and respect, at a minimum, the commitments made by France.” The government remained silent.
With the support of the cities of Paris and Grenoble and several environmental nonprofit organizations, Grande-Synthe took the issue to the Council of State. In November, the Council gave the government three months to develop a plan “that the reduction path by 2030 can be respected.” Thursday’s decision confirmed the national strategy is not working.