French justice demands the State to compensate carbon budget excess

Carbon emissions of 2020 made France look better

The French justice demanded the State to repair its failure in tackling climate change. Yet, 2020 has helped France respecting the average carbon budget of the last six years.

Lockdown improved air quality in French urban areas
Lockdown improved air quality in French urban areas

On October 14, the Administrative Court of Paris demanded the French State to “fix the consequences of its failure in fighting climate change“.

To that end, the Court asked for the greenhouse gas emissions exceeding the carbon budget 2015-2018 to be compensated by the end of 2022.

The decision is a victory for the four environmentalist organizations, including Oxfam and Greenpeace France, that seized the Court in 2019. They wanted to prove the French State was deficient in its fight against climate change.

The non-profits called it the “Case of the Century” and also launched a petition collecting 2.3 million signatures.

The carbon budget set for the 4-year period of 2015-2018 was a first in France. A carbon budget is the upper limit of carbon dioxide and greenhouse gas emissions a country needs to respect for doing its part in mitigating the effects of climate change.

For that first period, France’s budget was set at an yearly average of 441 Mt CO2eq. But France went above budget by 62 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (Mt CO2eq) for the entire period of 2015-2018. It accounts for a 3.5% surplus and an average excess of 15.5 Mt CO2eq every year.

Price of carbon reached record highs in 2021. With a price of 61 euros a tonne as in August 2021, 62 Mt CO2eq equals to about 3.78 billion euros (US $4.38 billion).

The reduced emissions in 2020 made France respect six years of carbon budget

Future carbon budgets are more ambitious. The annual carbon budget for the period 2019-2023 is 4% lower than for 2015-2018 (422 Mt CO2eq), and the next two other periods are set to include 15% and 16% fewer carbon emissions than their preceding period (359 and 300 Mt CO2eq).

However, the Court noted France compensated a large part of the excess of carbon during 2020.

Actually, estimates say that carbon emissions decreased by 9.2% in 2020 because of the Covid-19 pandemic and the country’ slow economic activity. Successive lockdowns in 2020 also reduced deaths by air pollution in France.

To a lesser extent, French carbon emissions in 2019 also decreased by 1.9%.

Although the Court stressed out it was unrelated to specific actions meant to tackle carbon emissions, the calculated prejudice at the date of the judgment has been reduced to an excess of 15 Mt CO2eq (0.9% above budget).

In the end, the year 2020 allowed France to respect the average carbon budget of a six-year period, from 2015 to 2020. Except that the economy started again in 2021 and carbon emissions are expected to increase, making France de facto over budget pretty quickly.

Administrative Court of Paris
Administrative Court of Paris

No penalty payment for failing to compensate carbon budget surplus

In a first ruling in February, the Court concluded the State had failed to meet its commitments.

In July 2021, for another case, the Council of State also asked the government to take more initiatives in order to be able to reduce 1990’s carbon emission levels by 40% by 2030, as agreed by the European Union members in 2014. The Council gave until the end of March 2022 to make necessary changes to correct the trend, a shorter deadline than the ruling of the Court.

The Administrative Court of Paris didn’t set a penalty for delays in resolving the matter. The plaintiffs had asked the State to pay 78 million euros ($90 million) every six months until it compensated the carbon emission surplus.

In 2020, the French ministry of the environment estimated at 46 billion euros ($53 billion) the necessary annual investment to meet carbon budget goals of 2019-2023.

The State will not appeal the decision.

Read more about France

L’Affaire du Siècle : l’Etat devra réparer le préjudice écologique dont il est responsable, Administrative Court of Paris, October 2021, Unsecured access, Free accessStratégie nationale bas-carbone, Ministry of Environmental Transition, March 2021, PDF, Free accessEU benchmark carbon price breaches 60 euros/T for the first time, Reuters, August 2021, Free access2030 Climate and energy policy framework, European Council, 2014, PDF, Free accessLockdown Reduced Deaths Caused by Air Pollution in France, Newsendip, April 2021, Free accessEmissions de gaz à effet de serre : le Conseil d'État enjoint au Gouvernement de prendre des mesures supplémentaires avant le 31 mars 2022, Council of State, July 2021, Free access

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