Aerial photograph of people gathered in a square

France is latest country facing the courts on climate inaction

A group of French NGOs has begun the process of taking legal action against the government for inaction on climate change. META takes a closer look at the case and highlights where similar action has been taken around the world.

While 2018 was the fourth hottest year on record, NGOs in France are suing the French government for inaction on climate change and for non-respect of international, European and French climate commitments.

It was in Paris, France, four years ago that the landmark Paris climate agreement was signed.

In December, four NGOs — Fondation pour la Nature et l’Homme (FNH), Notre Affaire à Tous, Oxfam France and GreenPeace France — started legal action against the French government for inaction on climate change. Called ‘L’affaire du siècle’ (the ‘case of the century’), the initiative is supported by artists and Youtubers, and has received huge support from citizens. Almost 2,000,000 people have signed the petition calling citizens to back this legal action.

The four NGOs launched the first part of the legal action on 17 December 2018. The French State has two month to answer the query and make a proposal – until 17 February 2019. If they fail to act, the case will be brought to court. In that case, the process could be long.

In an interview, Marie Toussaint, legal expert, president and co-founder of ‘Notre affaire à tous’, said:

“The case could end up in front of the State Council or the European Court of Human rights. We hope we don’t get there.”

The objective of the action is for a legal entity to attest the lack of action of the French State so the government acts to develop real action against climate change.

It is not the first time governments have been called out on climate inaction. Around the world, citizens are taking action and are using justice to defend their right to a safe environment. Among them:

The Netherlands – Urgenda case

A Court in the Netherlands ordered the Dutch State to accelerate carbon emission cuts, after the Urgenda foundation and groups of citizens sued the state for not taking enough measures against CO2 emissions causing climate change. The decision was taken to protect Dutch citizens. The court ruled that the state should install greenhouse gas reductions of at least 25% by 2020.

“This is the first a time a court has determined that states have an independent legal obligation towards their citizens. That must inform the reduction commitments in Paris because if it doesn’t, they can expect pressure from courts in their own jurisdictions,” said Dennis van Berkel, legal counsel for the case.


The Supreme Court of Colombia ordered the implementation of an action plan to protect the Colombian Amazon. The case was brought to the court by a group of 25 young people claiming that the damage done to the lungs of the earth was threatening their right to a healthy environment.


Friends of the Irish environment launched a case against the Irish government because of their failure to take action against climate change.

The case specifically targets the National Mitigation Plan – published in 2017 and meant to provide guidance on how to decrease carbon emissions. The NGO regrets the lack of ambition of the plan that is not compliant with other commitments taken internationally and nationally. The initiative was supported by over 8500 people that have signed an online declaration backing up the case.

The case is expected to be heard in January 2019.

European Union

In May, META reported the legal actions of families from across Europe and beyond, taking the EU to court for its failure to adopt adequate targets for climate action.
The families come from Portugal, Germany, France, Italy, Romania, Kenya, Fiji, and Sweden and all have personal stories of how climate change is already impacting their livelihoods, homes, traditional family occupations and cultures. They are asking the court to rule that climate change is a human rights issue and the EU must protect their rights, their children’s rights and the rights of future generations.

United States

Numerous cities and municipalities have started legal actions against big oil companies. They are asking the fossil fuel industry reparation to cover climate change costs impacts.