France's highest administrative council on Thursday told the government to act now against climate change to ensure it meets comments on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, or else it could face potential fines.
The Conseil d'Etat, which acts as a legal adviser to the executive and as the supreme court for administrative justice, last November, gave the government three months to show it was enacting climate policies that make attainable a target of reducing greenhouse gases by 40% of their 1990 levels by 2030.
Nearly eight months later, it said that target still looked unattainable unless new measures were taken swiftly.
"The Conseil d'État therefore instructs the government to take additional measures between now and March 31, 2022, to hit the target," the council said.
A spokesperson for the council said it would assess the state's actions after the deadline and could issue a fine if measures fell short of what was necessary.
The Conseil d'Etat's stance has raised questions about credentials of President Emmanuel Macron as a champion of fighting climate change ad affirms the binding nature of greenhouse gas reduction targets contained in legislation.
The rate of decline in greenhouse gas emissions in France between 2015-2018 was about half as fast as needed to be on the right trajectory to achieving its 2030 target.
Meanwhile, the decrease in greenhouse gas emissions in 2020 were mainly due to the COVID-19 induced downturn in economic activity, a report issued by the independent High Council for Climate on Thursday said on Thursday.
Prime Minister Jean Castex's office said the government took note of the council's order and that government subsidies for electric cars and more energy-efficient housing, as well as climate-related legislation passing through parliament, were evidence of its commitment to curbing emissions.
The case was initially brought to the court by the commune of Grande-Synthe in northern France. The town is built on reclaimed land and local officials say it risks being inundated by rising sea levels caused by global warming.
The council has the power to award damages.
Greenpeace France hailed what it called "a clear ultimatum issued in the face of the government's inaction over climate change."