France’s top administrative court has ordered the government to take “all necessary additional steps” within the next nine months to enable it to reach its climate crisis targets or face possible sanctions, including substantial fines.
The Council of State said in a final ruling published on Thursday, with no possibility for appeal by the government, that France was not on track to meet its goal of achieving a 40% cut in emissions from 1990 levels by 2030.
“The Council of State therefore instructs the government to take additional measures between now and 31 March 2022 to hit the target,” it said.
A spokesperson said it would assess the state’s actions after the deadline, which falls days before the first round of presidential polls in which Emmanuel Macron is expected to seek re-election, and could issue a fine if it considered it necessary.
“This ruling by the Council of State is historic: for the first time in France, the state has been ordered to act for the climate,” said Damien Carême, an MEP and former mayor of the northern coastal town of Grande-Synthe, which brought the case.
“I hope this will bring an end to the lethargy, hypocrisy and cynicism … Behind the government’s fancy speeches, there is a lack of action and ambition which is putting our joint futures in danger.”
A former environment minister, Corinne Lepage, who represented the town, also hailed the ruling as “historic”, while a campaign group including Oxfam France and Greenpeace France said the “noose is tightening on the government”.
Greenpeace France hailed what it called “a clear ultimatum issued in the face of the government’s inaction over climate change”. The rate of decline in greenhouse gas emissions in France between 2015 and 2018 was about half as fast as needed to meet its 2030 target.
The office of the prime minister, Jean Castex, said the government took note of the decision and “reiterates its determination to reinforce its climate actions by accelerating emission reductions even more”. It has already promised to announce extra measures “allowing us to fulfil our goals” this autumn.
Macron has been criticised for failing to meet France’s Paris agreement targets on the climate, with the independent High Council on Climate repeatedly warning the government was falling short of its commitments.
In November 2020 the Council of State ruled that France’s climate goals were binding, subsequently giving the government an extra three months to prove its climate policies would allow the country to meet its goals.