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French mayor goes to court over government’s ‘climate inaction’

Grande-Synthe mayor Damien Carême, left, opened a case on alleged government inaction on climate change in France's highest administrative court, the Conseil d'Etat, on 23 January 2019. AFP/Philippe Huguen

A mayor in northern France launched the country’s first legal case alleging the government’s environmental policy failed to meet climate change objectives on Wednesday, adding to a growing list of cases appearing around the world.

Damien Carême, a member of France’s Green Party and mayor of Grande-Synthe in northern France, initiated proceedings targeting the government’s perceived inaction on climate change in the country’s highest administrative court, the Conseil d’Etat.

He said that his town, which sits on the northern coast of France between Dunkirk and Calais, faced a long term threat of submersion if sea levels rise.

“The government is not going enough to fight climate change and is thereby harming the future of my municipality,” he explained last November, when he notified the government and executive bodies about his intentions.

His team said the state was not honouring its climate engagements at the national, European and international levels.

“We have requested the Conseil d’Etat to oblige cabinet ministers and the prime minister to act so that France changes its policy in regards to its climate engagements,” Corinne Lepage, lawyer of the city and a former environment minister, told AFP agency.

The announcement comes a month after four NGOs launched a petition that gathered two million signatures denouncing the French government’s perceived inaction when it comes to reducing the carbon emissions responsible for climate change.

Carême's lawsuit could be followed by a similar one based on that petition, and both resemble cases that have appeared in several countries in recent years.

According to the London-based Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, more than 270 cases are being examined in 25 jurisdictions around the world outside the United States, where there are more than 800 such cases.

A landmark decision in the Netherlands in 2015, based on a complaint by an environmental protection group on behalf of 900 citizens, ordered the state to reduce its emissions by 25 percent by the year 2020. The judgement was confirmed on appeal last year.