A Paris court yesterday was to begin hearing a complaint brought by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) backed by 2 million citizens accusing the French state of failing to act to halt climate change.
The groups want the court to hold the state responsible for ecological damage and say victory would mark a symbolic step in the fight to persuade governments to do more.
An international accord signed in Paris five years ago aims to limit global warming to less than 2°C over pre industrial levels, and preferably to 1.5°C.
However, experts say governments are far from meeting their commitments and anger is growing among the younger generation over inaction, symbolized by the campaigns of Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg.
The French case is part of a mounting push by climate campaigners across the world to use courts against governments.
In 2019, the Dutch Supreme Court ordered the Netherlands to slash its greenhouse gas emissions by at least 25 percent from 1990 levels by the end of last year after a case brought by an NGO.
The French case began in December 2018 when four groups accused the government of failing to reduce emissions in a formal complaint backed by more than 2 million people in an online petition — a French record.
Unsatisfied with the response, the NGOs, including Greenpeace France and Oxfam France, then filed their legal complaint in March 2019 seeking symbolic damages of just 1 euro (US$1.21) from the state.
“We are full of hope for this hearing and the decision that will follow,” Greenpeace France director Jean-Francois Julliard said.
Julliard said he wanted the court to recognize that the state was not doing enough.
“The icing on the cake would be a decision to urge the state to do more to put France back on the trajectory of the Paris Agreement,” he said.
While France has committed to reducing its emissions by 40 percent by 2030 compared with 1990, the NGOs say it is exceeding the carbon budgets it pledged.
They also complain of shortcomings in the energy renovation of buildings or development of renewable energy, saying this is having a daily impact on the health and quality of life in France.
The NGOs have presented 100 testimonies from individuals with their case, after collecting more than 25,000 online.
The government rejects accusations of inaction, pointing to the energy-climate law of 2019 that “reinforces the climate goals” by aiming for carbon neutrality by 2050 or a 40 percent drop in the use of fossil fuels by 2030.
It has also rejected the request for compensatione, arguing that the state cannot be held solely responsible for climate change when France represents about 1 percent of global emissions.
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