By three letters dated November 19, 2018, the municipality of Grande-Synthe and its mayor asked the President of the Republic, the Prime Minister, the Minister of State, and the Minister of Ecological Transition and Solidarity to (i) take any useful measure to bend the curve of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions produced on the national territory to respect the obligations agreed by France; (ii) take all legislative or regulatory initiatives to "make climate priority mandatory" and to prohibit any measure likely to increase GHG emissions, and (iii) implement immediate measures to adapt to climate change in France. They did not receive any answer from the public authorities.
Therefore, on January 23, 2019, they sued the French government and requested the Council of State to annul for excess of power the implicit decisions of rejection resulting from the silence kept by the President of the Republic, the Prime Minister and the Minister of State, Minister of Ecological Transition and Solidarity, on their requests, and to order them to (i) take all necessary measures to curb the curve of GHG emissions produced on the national territory to respect at least the commitments agreed by France at the international and national levels; (ii) implement immediate measures to adapt to climate change in France, and (iii) take all necessary legislative and regulatory initiatives to "make climate change a priority" and prohibit any measure likely to increase GHG emissions. The suit was filed before the Council of State (Conseil d'Etat), the highest administrative court in France, which has jurisdiction to review a decision within the general regulatory power of the government. Plaintiffs stressed the particular vulnerability of Grande-Synthe to the impacts of climate change as a low-lying coastal municipality exposed to sea level rise and flooding.
On November 19, 2020, the Council of State ruled that the case was admissible. According to the Court, the coastal communities' claims are admissible in part because the city is particularly exposed to the effects of climate change. The Court also accepted interventions by NGOs and other interested cities. The Court then noted that France committed itself to a 40% reduction in GHG emissions by 2030, compared to 1990 levels, and instructed the government to justify its ability to meet this goal without stricter measures. Although the Court signalled that the decision would be driven by French and European law and not the Paris Agreement, the Court reasoned that the Paris Agreement must be considered in the interpretation of national law. In this respect, the objective of reducing GHG emissions by 40% between 1990 and 2030 set out in Article L. 100-4 of the Energy Code, which expressly mentions the UNFCCC and the Paris Agreement, is intended to ensure, as far as France is concerned, the effective implementation of the principles set out in international law. Moreover, the Court stated that the fact that the executive branch refrains from submitting a bill to Parliament concerns the relationship between the constitutional public authorities and is therefore outside the jurisdiction of the administrative court. On the other hand, it affirmed that it did not have all the necessary elements to assess the situation in order to state on the claim concerning the annulment of the implicit refusal to take any useful measure enabling the curve of GHG emissions produced on the national territory to be curbed and the related injunction to curb the emissions and instructed the government to justify, within three months, that it was taking adequate actions towards meeting its own 2030 climate goals.
The Council of State issued the final decision on July 1, 2021. It ordered the government to "take all the measures necessary" by the end of March 2022 to bend the curve of GHG emissions to meet climate goals, including a 40% reduction by 2030. The Court annulled the government's implicit refusal to take necessary measures, noting that the emissions decrease in 2019 and 2020 were not enough to ensure compliance with the required climate goals, and current climate regulations were insufficient to meet the target.
The procedure concerning the evaluation of the implementation of the measures necessary to comply with the decision of the Council of State is currently ongoing.
|01/23/2019||Press Release||Download||English Summary of the Case Provided by Plaintiffs|
|01/23/2019||Press Release||Download||French Press Release Provided by Plaintiffs|
|11/09/2020||Opinion||Download||Unofficial English translation of the opinion of the rapporteur public of the Conseil D'Etat. The rapporteur public is a consultant judge to the court who gives an impartial opinion proposing a legal solution to the issues at hand during the public hearing of the case. The rapporteur public does not take part in the ultimate decision, but courts often follow their recommendations, and their opinions can provide insight into the court's decision.|
|11/19/2020||Decision||Download||Decision that case is admissible and ordering government to justify climate actions (in French)|
|11/19/2020||Decision||Download||Decision on admissibility and justification (unofficial English translation)|
|07/01/2021||Decision||Download||Decision ordering France to take all necessary measures (in French)|