Four NGOs, including Oxfam and Greenpeace, have initiated legal proceedings against the French government, claiming that France has defaulted on its environmental obligations by eliminating, under intense pressure from “Yellow Vests,” the stiff carbon tax it had imposed. The initial filing gives the government two months to formulate a response, after which the organizations can choose to move forward with their lawsuit in administrative court.
To an American lawyer, the lawsuit might seem absurd. To my knowledge, France has no legal obligation to impose the carbon tax. Nor, in our system of jurisprudence, is there a general cause of action against the government for “not doing enough” to combat a particular problem. Otherwise, I might sue our government for not doing enough to keep criminals off the streets.
According to this source, however, governments have been sued successfully for “not doing enough” to protect the environment:
In 2015, an NGO and 886 plaintiffs won a case against the Dutch government for not doing enough to reduce domestic greenhouse-gas emissions. The judge ordered the government to reduce emissions by at least 25% within five years—a ruling recently upheld in appeals court. In Colombia, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of a suit brought forward by 25 children against their government for not halting the deforestation of the Amazon.
I’m pretty sure some left-liberal judges in America would love to issue similar orders to our government. But we haven’t reached the point where such rulings would stick. We may get there, but not for a while.
As for the French lawsuit, it would be fascinating to see how the Yellow Vests would respond if a tribunal ordered the government to reinstate the carbon tax. Let’s hope we don’t find out. The Palais de Justice in Paris is a beautiful building. I’d hate to see it set ablaze.
French enviros claim there is no tension between their lawsuit and the Yellow Vests:
“What [the Yellow Vests] want first and foremost is social justice and financial justice. And there will be no social justice without action for the climate,” In Our Common Interest President Marie Toussaint told reporters. Her group is one of the four non-government organizations seeking to sue France.
“Global warming feeds on inequalities and strengthens them. It strikes the most fragile first. It is destroying our economy and our territories. So, it can be a process that can be done in parallel,” Toussaint said. The best way to enact the carbon tax is to offset it with a subsidy for those who rely on transportation, she added.
Thus far, the Yellow Vests have demonstrated little interest in subsidies. Nor have I seen evidence that they desire the left’s version of “social justice.”
Maybe Ms. Toussaint will be able to persuade them that the carbon tax is in their interest. However, she’d be well-advised to make her case at a safe distance.