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ENVIRONMENT

Court gives France three-month deadline to justify its actions on climate change

France's top administrative court on Thursday gave the government a three-month deadline to show it is taking action to meet its commitments on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Court gives France three-month deadline to justify its actions on climate change
Photo: AFP

The government of France, which brokered the landmark 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change, was hauled before the Council of State by the northern coastal town of Grande-Synthe, which is particularly exposed to the effects of climate change.

The Council noted that “while France has committed itself to reducing its emissions by 40 percent in 2030 compared to 1990 levels, it has, in recent years, regularly exceeded the 'carbon budgets' it had set itself.”

It also noted that President Emmanuel Macron's government had, in a decree in April, deferred much of the reduction efforts beyond 2020.

Before issuing a final ruling on the matter, the council gave the government three months to justify “how its refusal to take additional measures is compatible with the respect of the reduction path chosen in order to achieve the targets set for 2030.”

In an unusual move for the court, reflecting the global nature of the issue at hand, it published its decision both in English and French.

In January 2019, the then Greens mayor of Grande-Synthe, Damien Careme petitioned the Council of State over the government's “climate inaction”.

Careme said his town, which is built on land reclaimed from the sea, risked being flooded by rising sea levels.

The town's case was backed by the cities of Paris and Grenoble, as well as several environmental NGOs including Oxfam France and Greenpeace France.

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CLIMATE CRISIS

Scorching summer was France’s second hottest on record

Three heatwaves since June produced France's second-hottest summer since records began in 1900, the Météo France weather service said on Tuesday, warning that scorching temperatures will be increasingly common as the climate crisis intensifies.

Scorching summer was France's second hottest on record

With 33 days of extreme heat overall, average temperatures for June, July and August were 2.3C above normal for the period of 1991-2020.

It was surpassed only by the 2003 heatwave that caught much of France unprepared for prolonged scorching conditions, leading to nearly 15,000 heat-related deaths, mainly among the elderly.

Data is not yet available for heat-related deaths this summer, but it is likely to be significantly lower than 15,000 thanks to preventative measures taken by local and national authorities. 

Most experts attribute the rising temperatures to the climate crisis, with Météo France noting that over the past eight summers in France, six have been among the 10-hottest ever.

By 2050, “we expect that around half of summer seasons will be at comparable temperatures, if not higher,” even if greenhouse gas emissions are contained, the agency’s research director Samuel Morin said at a press conference.

The heat helped drive a series of wildfires across France this summer, in particular a huge blaze in the southwest that burned for more than a month and blackened 20,000 hectares. 

Unusually, wildfires also broke out even in the normally cooler north of the country, and in total an area five times the size of Paris burned over the summer. 

Adding to the misery was a record drought that required widespread limits on water use, with July the driest month since 1961 – many areas still have water restrictions in place.

MAP: Where in France are there water restrictions and what do they mean?

Forecasters have also warned that autumn storms around the Mediterranean – a regular event as air temperatures cool – will be unusually intense this year because of the very high summer temperatures. A storm that hit the island of Corsica in mid August claimed six lives. 

“The summer we’ve just been through is a powerful call to order,” Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said on Monday, laying out her priorities for an “ecological planning” programme to guide France’s efforts against climate change.

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