The L’affaire du siècle (French for “affair of the century”) is a French climate justice campaign initiated by four organisations (Fondation pour la nature et l’homme, Greenpeace France, Notre affaire à tous and Oxfam France) on 17 December 2018 to bring the French State to justice for its inaction in the fight against global warming. After the French State rejected the campaigners’ demand, a legal action against the State was filed with the Paris Administrative Court on 14 March 2019.
On 3 February 2021, in a decision that the associations described as ‘a historic victory for the climate’, this court confirmed the existence of a causal link between environmental damage and the failure of the State to adequately combat climate change. It ordered the State to submit written observations within a two-month time frame.
On 14 October 2021, in its final decision, the court instructed the French State to take immediate and concrete measures to combat climate change and to repair the damage caused by its inaction by 31 December 2022.
Among other things, the applicant organisations relied on Articles 2 and 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and the French Charter of the Environment, as well as the “right to a preserved climate system”. The plaintiffs argued that this right stems from national and international law such as the Stockholm Declaration, the World Charter for Nature, the Rio Declaration, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Kyoto Protocol, the Paris Agreement, the Climate action and renewable energy package for 2020.
Findings on the merits:
The court found that the State had not respected its greenhouse gas reductions commitments and had therefore committed a “fault”. It accordingly held that, “[i]n line with the commitments that it had made within the framework of the first carbon budget, which it failed to respect, the State must be regarded as responsible […] for part of the ecological damage observed”.
The Administrative Court of Paris thereby confirmed on 3 February 2021 that there was a causal link between the environmental damage and the inaction of the French government in combating climate change. In other words, it recognized that the government’s inaction had caused ecological damage, and that the State should be held responsible for at least part of this damage. The court ordered the government to show, within two-months, the measures it intended to take against climate change. The court reserved the rest of its judgment until after it had received these submissions.
In its final decision on 14 October 2021, the Administrative Court of Paris instructed the Prime Minister and the relevant ministers to take all possible measures to combat climate change and to repair the ecological damage and prevent it from getting worse. The Court specified the damage in the amount of the uncompensated share of greenhouse gas emissions under the initial carbon budget, i.e. 15 million tons of CO2 equivalents. It ordered that the recuperation of this damage must be effective no later than 31 December 2022. However, the Court did not consider it appropriate to impose a penalty on its order.
The Court noted that it is not its role to assess whether the totality of the measures taken is sufficient or not. Therefore, the specific measures to implement this recuperation may take various forms, and are left to the discretion of the French government. In its findings, the Court referred to the Commune de Grande-Synthe decision of the Conseil d’État (“Council of State”) of 1 July 2021. This decision states that the current measures are not sufficient to achieve the necessary reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.
Date of filing:
14 March 2019
Date of decision:
14 October 2021
For the full text of the final decision of 14 October 2021 (in French), see here.
For the full text of the first decision of 3 February 2021 (in French), see here.
For an unofficial translation of the first decision of 3 February 2021 (in English), see here.
For an unofficial translation of the State’s reply (in English), see here.
For the plaintiff’s reply to the State’s arguments (in French), see here.
The applicant organisations are active on Twitter at @laffairedusiecl, and they have a website that can be found at https://laffairedusiecle.net/.
Paris Administrative Court, Notre Affaire à Tous and Others v. France (‘L’affaire du siècle’), Decision of 3 February 2021, Nos. 1904967, 1904968, 1904972, and 1904976/4.
Paris Administrative Court, Notre Affaire à Tous and Others v. France (‘L’affaire du siècle’), Decision of 14 October 2021, Nos. 1904967, 1904968, 1904972, and 1904976/4.
Christel Cournil, Antoine Le Dylio, Paul Mougeolle, ‘L’affaire du Siècle : French Climate Litigation between Continuity and Legal Innovations’, 14(1) Carbon & Climate Law Review (2020), 223-233. Available here.