NGOs accuse France of climate inaction in landmark court case

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Paris (AFP)

A Paris court will begin to hear on Thursday a complaint filed by NGOs supported by two million citizens accusing the French state of not having acted to curb climate change.

NGOs want the tribunal to hold the state accountable for ecological damage and say the victory would mark a symbolic step in the fight to persuade governments to do more.

An international agreement signed in Paris five years ago aims to limit global warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels, and preferably to 1.5 degrees.

But experts say governments are far from fulfilling their commitments and anger is mounting among the younger generation over inaction, symbolized by the campaigns of Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg.

The French case is part of a growing push by climate activists around the world to use courts against governments.

In 2019, the Dutch Supreme Court ordered the Netherlands to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to at least 25% of 1990 levels by the end of 2020 following a case brought by a NGO.

The French case began in December 2018 when four NGOs accused the government of failing to cut emissions in a formal complaint supported by more than two million people in an online petition – a French record.

Dissatisfied with the response, NGOs, including Greenpeace France and Oxfam France, then filed their complaint in March 2019 asking for symbolic damages of just one euro ($ 1.21) from the state.

– Exceeding carbon budgets –

“We are full of hope for this hearing and the decision that will follow,” Jean-François Julliard, director of Greenpeace France, told AFP.

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 encourage the State to do more to put France back on the path of the Paris Agreement,” he said.

While France has pledged to reduce its emissions by 40% by 2030 compared to 1990, NGOs say it is exceeding the carbon budgets it has committed.

They also complain of deficiencies in the energy renovation of buildings or the development of renewable energies, claiming that this has a daily impact on the health and quality of life of the French.

– Natural disasters “increase” –

The NGOs presented 100 testimonials from individuals with their cases, having collected more than 25,000 online.

“For me, climate change – with the increase in the frequency of natural disasters, the rise in sea temperatures and the progression of coastal erosion – is now a reality,” said Jean-François, mussel producer. on the island of Oléron in western France.

The government rejects accusations of inaction, highlighting the energy-climate law of 2019 which “strengthens climate objectives” by targeting carbon neutrality by 2050 or a 40% reduction in the use of fossil fuels by 2030 .

In its defense to the court, the government also rejected the claim for compensation for ecological damage, arguing that the French state cannot be held solely responsible for climate change when France accounts for around 1% of global emissions.

Julliard acknowledged that the case could be a double-edged sword for NGOs.

“If we lose, it will be easy for the state to say, ‘We won in court, so stop your relentless demands,’” he said.

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