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Paris court finds France guilty of failing to meet its own Paris climate accord commitments

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Paris — Four environmental groups are crying victory after France was found guilty of failing to meet climate change goals it committed to in a historic accord signed in and named after its own capital city. The Administrative Tribunal in Paris ruled Wednesday that France had fallen short of its promise to reduce greenhouse gases under commitments made in the 2015 Paris Agreement, and was "responsible for ecological damage."

While the court declared the government guilty of inaction, it rejected a claim for damages by the four NGOs that brought the suit, ordering the government to pay just one symbolic euro to them instead. The tribunal also said it would decide within two months whether to recommend any measures for the government to resolve its failure to meet its own commitments.

In January, the court called the proceedings the "first major climate trial in France."

Jean-Francois Julliard, executive director of Greenpeace France (L), Cecile Ostria, executive director of Nicolas Hulot foundation (C) and Cecile Duflot, Oxfam executive director attend the beginning of the trial of "l'affaire du siecle" (the case of the century), a landmark case against French state over climate inaction at the administrative court in Paris, January 14, 2021. THOMAS COEX/AFP/Getty

Former Green Party leader and cabinet minister Cécile Duflot, who's now the head of Oxfam France, one of the four NGOs that dragged the government into court, called this week's largely symbolic ruling, "a historic victory for climate justice."

Oxfam France was joined by Greenpeace France and two French environmental groups in bringing the case against the government. Two years ago, they organized a petition to denounce what they called "climate inaction" by the French state. In just a month they garnered two million signatures, and in March 2019 they filed the lawsuit, alleging failure to act.

In signing the Paris climate accord in December 2015, France committed to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 40% compared to 1990 levels by 2030, and to achieving carbon neutrality by 2050. Last year, France decided to defer that commitment.

French President Emmanuel Macron visits the German stand during the UN conference on climate change (COP23) on November 15, 2017 in Bonn, Germany. Getty

Wednesday's ruling was a blow for French president Emmanuel Macron, who's made combatting climate change a priority for his administration. It was also a pointed slap in the face for the country that oversaw the negotiations and signing of the Paris Agreement. A total of 196 countries and territories agreed in the French capital to take measures to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celcius, and preferably 1.5 degrees, compared to pre-industrial levels.

The court ruling was "also a political victory," according to Greenpeace France director Jean-François Julliard, who said Macron could no longer "stand idly by."

The French government issued a statement saying it had "taken note of" the court's decision, acknowledging that initial objectives had not been achieved and promising that a new bill to address the climate would be debated in parliament next month. That legislation, the government said, would constitute "a new and decisive step in accelerating France's ecological transition."

The coronavirus pandemic has seen many countries falter in their commitments to the Paris Agreement, but there has been some renewed optimism since newly-elected U.S. President Joe Biden signed an executive order to bring the U.S. back into the accord following his predecessor's withdrawal.

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