Is the Affair of the Century close to a historic condemnation of the State?

Is the Affair of the Century close to a historic condemnation of the State?

Violet Field inPlanetJan 15, 2021 6 min read1 views

Greenpeace, Notre Affaire à tous, the Nicolas Hulot Foundation and Oxfam sued the French state for climate inaction two years ago. The hearing took place this Thursday and allows the four NGOs to be

The first appeal hearing for the Affair of the Century was held this Thursday, January 14 at the Paris administrative court. - Thomas SAMSON / AFP
  • “The Affair of the Century” came to justice this Thursday, a key step for the four NGO applicants who hope for recognition of a failure of the State in the fight against global warming.
  • At the end of the hearing, they could smile. "There is indeed a fault of the State in not having respected its trajectory" of reduction of greenhouse gas emissions ", estimated the public rapporteur in her conclusions.
  • It remains to await the judgment. The four NGOs in the Case of the Century hope, at a minimum, that the court recognizes the faulty shortcomings of the state. And, ideally, that he orders him to take measures to finally meet his commitments.

The Affair of the Century is approaching its epilogue. On March 13, 2019, four environmental NGOs - Notre Affaire à tous, Greenpeace France, Fondation Nicolas Hulot, and Oxfam France - filed a lawsuit, before the administrative court of Paris, against the French State. The reason? Its lack of action with regard to its climate commitments.

Much has been written about this Affair of the Century. Already the online petition launched by the four NGOs to back up their legal action. It was signed by 2.3 million people, "a record", they say. Above all, if the court's decision is positive for them, this “Case of the Century” could “set a precedent and truly pave the way for climate justice in France”, assure the four NGOs.


"A fault of the State" for the public rapporteur

Until then, this “Affair of the Century” has essentially been reduced to exchanges of memories between the two parties. "The State responded to our request last summer and we ourselves responded to" this defense brief "on September 4, Clément Capdebos, Greenpeace lawyer, told 20 minutes on November 19. Since there were no more new elements brought to the file, the court decided to close the investigation by considering itself sufficiently informed to rule on the case. "

It only remained to wait for the hearing. It took place this Thursday afternoon and has something to make the four NGOs smile. The public rapporteur, the magistrate chosen to analyze the dispute, considered that "there was indeed a fault of the State in not having respected its trajectory of reduction of greenhouse gas emissions". And proposed to the court to recognize the "faulty failure of the State".

“There will be a before and after this trial, reacts Emmanuel Daoud, lawyer of Notre Affaire à Tous. Clearly, the public rapporteur has agreed with us. "To hear the public rapporteur speak for an hour and a half, with very strong words, sometimes even repeating passages from our appeal almost word for word, obviously, that did something to us, says Célia Gautier, climate and energy manager at the Nicolas Hulot Foundation. We say to ourselves that we did not do this for anything, that we are in the process of moving the law, moving a mountain. "

Jean-François Julliard, director of Greenpeace France, remains cautious, however. "It was only the hearing, we will wait for the judgment". It should fall within two weeks. The recommendations of the public rapporteur will not necessarily be followed by the court. “In general, this is the case,” said Emmanuel Daoud, however.

Is the injunction to act the icing on the cake?

The four NGOs and their lawyers hope at least to obtain recognition of the fault of the State for the shortcomings of the climate policies carried out so far. But the icing on the cake would also be to obtain "the injunction to act". "In other words, the court orders the state to take measures to finally meet its commitments", continues Célia Gautier. The raison d'être of the Affair of the Century? "Our deep desire is not to condemn the State, it is for the State to act", repeats Cécile Duflot, Executive Director of Oxfam France.

🚨The hearing of # LAffaireDuSiècle takes place today at 1:45 p.m. , at the administrative tribunal of Paris.
📢This morning we reminded the State 🇫🇷 that it is responding to the 2,312,003 people who have spoken and who support us 👇 @FondationNH @oxfamfrance @greenpeacefr @NotreAffaire pic.twitter.com/a09BtWXPcK

- The case of the century (@laffairedusiecl) January 14, 2021

This injunction to act will be more complicated to obtain in the judgment of the administrative tribunal of Paris. "On this point, the public rapporteur recommends that the court postpone its decision for later," explains Clémentine Baldon, the lawyer for the Nicolas Hulot Foundation. There is indeed a debate today as to whether it is up to a court to order the state to take climate action in addition to what it has already planned. This is one of the questions raised by the Grande-Synthe affair, in which the State is also attacked for climate inaction [this time by the mayor of this northern municipality ]. On November 11, the Council of State issued a decision in this case that was qualified as historic by giving the State three months to demonstrate that it is taking the measures to achieve its commitments in terms of gas reduction. Greenhouse effect. "On the other hand, on the injunction to act, the Council of State has not yet ruled and the administrative court of Paris should give it time to do so before making a decision", continues Clémentine Baldon.

Already a symbolic trial?

Another unknown in the Affair of the Century will be the state's reaction to the judgment if it is against it. In the event of an appeal, the epilogue could be postponed for several years. “The procedure would then be brought before the administrative court of appeal in Paris and we will start from scratch with new judges, new exchanges of briefs, etc., explains Clément Capdebos. And if the decision is again favorable to us, the State will still have the possibility of appealing to the Council of State… ”. In the Netherlands, the fight led by the NGO Urgenda, one of the main inspirations of the “Affair of the Century”, lasted six years before obtaining a condemnation from the State for climate inaction.

But does the French state have an interest in playing extra time? A call could give him bad press. The four NGOs like to remind the State that it is "to 2.3 million French" that it is opposed in this affair. Cécile Duflot also quotes this Thursday evening the words of the public rapporteur: "She spoke of the Affair of the Century as the first major climate trial in France".