France Found Guilty of Climate Inaction

By Ashira Morris, ODP Staff Writer

Add another landmark environmental moment in Paris to the list: a French court ruled this week that the national government is guilty of failing to turn its climate promises into action. In its ruling, the court recognized the damage caused by climate change and held the French state responsible, France 24 reports. The case was filed by four NGOs and backed by 2 million French citizens, who celebrated the win as “a first historic victory for climate” and a “victory for truth.”  Now the case shifts to the damages phase in which the court will determine what the government must do to make reparations.  The court said financial damages payments were not appropriate.

Why this Matters: The landmark decision is the result of France’s first major climate lawsuit – but it won’t be the last. The ruling holds the state liable and also sets a precedent for people impacted by the climate crisis to seek action through the courts. The judicial system is an important tool to hold governments and corporations alike accountable to climate promises and environmental harm they’ve caused. With many governments far from their climate commitments — France missed its targets set by the Paris Agreement and punted most efforts until after 2020 — litigation is a way to keep moving toward the emission reductions that need to happen.

Climate court action around the world

The number of climate cases has doubled over the last three years, with at least 1,550 cases filed in 38 countries in 2020 according to a recent report by the UN Environment Programme. The report found that in recent years, the plaintiffs — the people bringing cases to court — are diversifying to include children, seniors, migrants, and indigenous people. They point out some key trends of what people are suing over in global climate lawsuits, including:

  • Violations of “climate rights”, i.e. cases are increasingly relying on fundamental human rights including the right to life, health, food, and water.
  • Failures of governments to enforce their commitments on climate change mitigation and adaptation.
  • “Greenwashing” and non-disclosures, when corporate messaging contains false or misleading information about climate change impacts.

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