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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Justice. A town takes on the State on behalf of the climate

by Marie-Noëlle Bertrand

Justice. A town takes on the State on behalf of the climate

Translated Thursday 20 December 2018, by Jane Swingler

Damien Carême, the mayor of Grande-Synthe, has lodged an administrative appeal against the government for its lack of action in respect of global warming. This move makes him part of an international movement.

What can you do when, at a local level, you have already reduced greenhouse gas emissions in your vehicle stock and have a plan in place to save 20% of energy by 2020? You can make a legal challenge to pressure the State to do the same, if not more.
This is the high-impact move undertaken by Damien Carême, the mayor of Grande-Synthe, in the Nord department. On Monday, the elected representative of EELV (Europe Ecologie les Verts - the Green Party) lodged an administrative appeal against the Minister for Green Transition, the Prime Minister and the President for the State’s lack of action “in the fight against climate change”. He argues in essence that the government is not taking sufficient action and is putting at risk the future of his commune and its 22,000 residents.
Damien Carême argues in Le Parisien that Grande-Synthe, built on land reclaimed from the sea, is particularly vulnerable to flooding. “If the sea level rises too much, our dykes will not be high enough to stop it.”
Also at risk from climate disruption are the 62 species of nesting birds and 250 species of protected plants which nestle on the outskirts of the town and which earned Grande-Synthe the title of French biodiversity capital in 2010.
Quoting a report by GIEC, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which made clear in October the damage that a rise in global temperature of 1.5°C will cause, the mayor considers that France is not doing enough to prevent the chaos. And not without reason.
An IDDRI (Institute of Sustainable Development and International Relations) report revealed that not only has France’s 2015 agreement to reduce fossil fuel consumption fallen by the wayside since 2016 but the afore-mentioned consumption has even “increased by 6% in 2017”.
Damien Carême’s actions, picked up on social networks and by the media, have elicited a doubtful response from the Secretary of State for Ecological Transition. “You could say that it is a symbolic gesture,” was François de Rugy’s reaction on France Inter yesterday morning. “Do you honestly believe that climate change will be resolved through the courts?” he retorted to the Grande-Synthe mayor.
Citizens exercise their right to live in a protected world
There are many who will answer, in part, yes to this question. In lodging this appeal, Damien Carême has taken his place in an international movement which has seen more and more citizens going to court to exercise their right to live in climatically safe world (see L’Humanité, 29 October). The story of the 21 young Americans who in 2015, filed a formal complaint against their federal government for its lack of action against global warming is well-known. Another oft-quoted example is the 900 citizens who succeeded in getting the courts to order the Dutch government to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25% by 2020. And these examples aren’t the only ones.
In May 2018, 10 families sued the European Union for its lack of action concerning climate change and the violation of their fundamental rights. And victims of the 2016 typhoons in the Philippines cited as responsible the 47 multinationals who globally emit the most CO2. For these people, there is nothing symbolic about this move. “Yes, we believe that the judicial system can play a vital role in applying pressure on climate issues,” explained Desiree Llanos Dee, head of campaign, in an interview with L’Humanité at the beginning of November.
“Judges can act as protectors of citizens’ rights,” states Marie Toussaint, President of the Notre Affaire à Tous (Our Shared Responsibility) group, which co-ordinates similar campaigns throughout France. “There is no reason for Monsieur de Rugy to be annoyed by Damien Carême’s initiative”, she adds. “It is part of a global framework, which the French government has been slow in acknowledging.”

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