French climate damage measures were late but sufficient, court rules

By Nicolas Delame and Tassilo Hummel

PARIS (Reuters) – France’s moves to limit climate damage came late but were sufficient, a French court ruled on Friday, in a blow to attempts by environmental campaigners to impose a 1.1 billion euro ($1.21 billion) penalty on the state for alleged failings.

The ruling comes two years after a landmark legal order on France to honour its climate change commitments and take all necessary measures to repair ecological damage and stop further carbon emissions rises by end-December 2022 at the latest.

Campaign groups including Greenpeace and Oxfam lodged a motion to impose a penalty on the state, alleging President Emmanuel Macron’s government had not taken sufficient action to comply with the initial court order to lower emissions.

“The Court first found that the State, in compliance with the injunction issued against it, had adopted or implemented measures capable of remedying the damage in question”, the Paris administrative court said in its ruling issued on Friday.

Although data from 2021 and 2022 showed some shortcomings, these did not justify a penalty because excess emissions were offset by a sharp drop in the first quarter of 2023, it added.

The court also rejected the argument that because emissions had fallen mainly thanks to external factors, notably the COVID-19 pandemic and soaring energy prices resulting from the war in Ukraine, over the last two years this reflected a failure by the state to take necessary actions.

The campaign groups said they would appeal the ruling.

“We are more determined than ever to ensure that the 2021 condemnation of the government and France’s climate commitments are respected,” said Jean-François Julliard of Greenpeace France.

“The government’s action is far too half-hearted, and sometimes even harmful to the climate,” he added.

France’s strategy to tackle climate change relies heavily on making increased use of nuclear energy, with at least six new reactors planned for construction over the next decade.

The government is in the process of phasing out coal as a source of energy, investing in rail infrastructure and encouraging voluntary sector-by-sector saving measures.

($1 = 0.9067 euros)

(Reporting by Tassilo Hummel; Editing by Alexander Smith)