Huge court victory by Friends of the Earth France
France’s Supreme Court (Conseil d’État) has sanctioned the government’s repeated and continuous inaction over air pollution levels, condemning it to a historic 10 million euros fine. This is the highest fine ever for failure to respect European norms on air quality.
Years after Les Amis de la Terre / Friends of the Earth France initiated legal proceedings against the French government relating to air quality over the whole country, the State had already been condemned for its inaction in 2017. In July 2020, the Supreme Court gave the State six months to respect its obligations on air pollution, or face a historic fine. Since then, and despite multiple warnings from Friends of the Earth, the French government still has not put in place the policies needed to reduce air pollution. The air quality standards in several French cities are still dangerously high. The French Supreme Court says:
“If measures have been taken, the Conseil d’État believes that they will not improve the situation in the shortest possible time, because the implementation of some of them remains uncertain and their results. effects have not been evaluated.”
No time to waste
Air pollution is a matter of public health. According to a recent study, one in five deaths worldwide is attributable to air pollution. This equals around nine million deaths per year. According to the same study, air pollution is believed to cause 100,000 premature deaths in France, or 17.3% of all deaths.
Friends of the Earth France welcomes the amount of the fine but is especially pleased with the fact that the penalty payment will be reassessed every semester. Every six months, the State will have to pay the fine until finally it meets the European air pollution norms in the five areas concerned by the decision (Grenoble, Lyon, Paris, Toulouse and Aix-Marseille).
Louis Cofflard, Friends of the Earth France’s spokesperson and lawyer says:
“This is a historical new legal precedent. The Supreme Court yet again rules in favor of civil society. The highest administrative court invents an original solution to maintain the pressure on the government while preserving public funds.”
Though a decrease in air pollution has been observed in some of the cities concerned by the 2020 decision, the Court notes that the State has not been able to prove that this was the result of public policies aiming at fighting against air pollution and not the result of the activity and travel limitations linked to Covid-19 and its subsequent lockdowns.
10 million euros: for who?
The fine will be shared between several beneficiaries: Friends of the Earth France who initially referred the matter to the Court as well as public institutions and approved air quality monitoring structures in the areas concerned by the Court decision. The goal is that these funds will help implement effective public policies to combat air pollution.
France has no choice but to take responsibility and act quickly. This historic victory for air quality and climate is proof that inaction is no longer without consequences.