Photo Credits: L’Affaire du Siècle
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Environment: Citizens to Take the Lead to Sue their Government

A petition with more than two million signatures is blaming the French government for negligence over climate change. NGOs are looking to formally sue the government for breaching its international

The petition comes months after the shock resignation of then-Environment Minister Nicolas Hulot. Mr Hulot, who resigned after denouncing the government for a lack of action in addressing climate change, is a popular journalist and well-known environmental activist, and joined the government in 2017 after President Macron’s election victory. However, the postponement of nuclear energy withdrawal and a perceived lack of environmental safeguards in the EU-Canadian trade agreement CETA cancelled out his successes, such as the termination of an airport project and the banning of cancerous herbicides. Mr. Hulot resigned live on air without warning, stating “I do not want to lie to myself anymore”. Current Minister of Ecology, François de Rugy, affirmed he was “happy” about citizens’ engagement with climate issues in a newspaper column, but stressed that “greenhouse gases will not be reduced in a court of law”.

Speaking to France 24, climate activist leaders supporting L’Affaire du siècle, such as the writer and director Cyril Dion and the academic Clémence Dubois, have expressed their surprise at the speed of the movement’s growth, but not at the large-scale move to action itself. Ms. Dubois argued that Hulot’s resignation had “resonated with a lot of people”, with many angry at the government for “not fulfilling its international commitment”. Mr Dion linked an increase in climate activism with the European heatwave in 2018, which saw sustained high temperatures throughout the continent. He added that the burden should not be placed on poorer citizens when it is the richest who have “the highest carbon footprint”. According to Dion, NGOs will sue the government on the basis of its likely failure to reach EU targets for carbon and renewable energy consumption. This is not without precedent; similar charges brought against the Dutch government were upheld by the national courts, forcing the government to adopt stricter legislation to meet their targets.

If the courts rule in favour of the environmentalists, the President must decide who will shoulder the costs of a crackdown on carbon emissions. After cutting taxes for higher incomes and fighting unions on labour reforms, President Macron has been dubbed by many as a “President for the rich”. While the President has stressed the importance of these reforms to promote economic growth, the gilets jaunes movement has embodied this anger with riots and protests in the streets. To maintain France’s international commitments to environmental protection, it seems likely that the President will face a difficult decision, which risks provoking further ire amongst both businesses and voters.

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