France’s Case of the Century

On December 18, 2018, the Fondation pour la Nature et l’Homme (Foundation for Nature and Mankind), Notre Affaire à Tous (“An affair that concerns all of us”), Greenpeace France, and Oxfam France launched a climate justice campaign calling upon the French government to repair the ecological damage resulting from their climate inaction. The suit followed an online petition urging the government to meet its climate commitments. The petition gathered over two million signatures, resulting in the largest mobilization of online activism in French history. After the French State rejected the campaign’s demands, they filed legal action against the State on March 14, 2019, before the Paris Administrative Court known as the L’Affaire du Siècle or ‘Case of the Century.’

The case invoked Articles 2 and 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and the French Charter of the Environment as well as the “right to a preserved climate system” enshrined in national and international law such as the Stockholm Declaration, the World Charter for Nature, the Rio Declaration, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Kyoto Protocol, the Paris Agreement, and the Climate action and renewable energy package for 2020. On February 3, 2021, the court ruled that ecological damage in France is directly attributable to climate change and that the French state is at least partly responsible for that damage. The state’s culpability stems from failing to comply with its greenhouse gas emission reduction targets. The court found that “in line with the commitments it had made within the framework of the first carbon budget, which it failed to respect, the State must be regarded as responsible … for part of the ecological damage observed.” The court gave the State two months to submit the measures it intended to take to mitigate climate change and made its final ruling contingent on this submission.

The final ruling came on October 14, 2021, and ordered the Prime Minister and other relevant ministers to take all possible measures to repair the ecological damage already done and prevent that damage from getting worse. The court of Paris ordered the government to “repair the ecological damage” for which it is responsible. It said it had to offset, before December 31, 2022, the excess CO2 emissions found between 2015 and 2018, namely 15 million tons.

In their assessment of the ecological damage, the court used the greenhouse gas emission targets set by the first carbon budget for 2015-2018, which exceeded 62 million tons of CO2 equivalents. Interestingly, the damage took into account the unprecedented decrease in greenhouse gas emissions, up to 47 Mt CO2eq, in 2020, attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic as opposed to climate action taken by the French state.

Contrary to the expressed desires of the organization that filed the suit, no penalty was imposed. The French state was ordered to pay a symbolic 1 euro to the environmental groups in compensation for the “moral damage” resulting from its failure to meet its commitments in the fight against climate change. Furthermore, the measures employed to implement the recuperation of ecological damage were left to the discretion of the French government. The concrete implications of this decision, therefore, are mainly symbolic. Despite this, many consider the court ruling to be a legal revolution in which the climate inaction of the French state is officially considered an illegal act that directly results in ecological damage they are responsible for repairing.

In a joint release from all four organizations who filed the suit, the decision was still praised as a means of climate justice forcing its way onto the political agenda. They also proffered additional measures the French State should take to comply with its climate commitments such as achieving  700 000 building renovations per year, increasing railway traffic from 20 to 25% compared to 2018, and multiplying by four the available surface for organic agriculture.

This Post was submitted by Climate Scorecard France Country Manager Liana Mehring.

Image: Climate protestors affiliated with the online petition for “L’Affaire du siècle”

Works Cited

“Case of the Century Decision Climate: The next Five-Year Term(s) under Judicial Supervision.” Oxfam Aotearoa, 18 Oct. 2021,

Brunelle, Emmanuelle, and Dimitri Lecat. “The ‘Trial of the Century’ – a New Decision Has Been Rendered by the Paris Administrative Court.” Passle, 2 Nov. 2021,

Garric, Audrey. “Greenhouse Gas Emissions Decreased by 2.5% in France in 2022.” Le Monde.Fr, 4 Apr. 2023,

Heri, Corina. “Notre Affaire à Tous and Others v. France (‘l’affaire Du Siècle’).” Climate and Human Rights Litigation Database, 16 Mar. 2023,

“Soutenir Le Recours.” L’Affaire Du Siècle, Accessed 13 June 2023.


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