Does the conservation of the planet require a more restrictive law? And which one?

Two million signatures. The most signed petition in the history of France. What subject has taken up the challenge of gathering so much French people? 

If you didn’t already know, it’s “The Case of the century”! A petition initiated by four public interest organisations on December 18th 2018 against the French government for inaction on climate change.

In this case, the conservation of the planet is a core subject of the news. On January 10th, the petition crossed the two million signatures mark in France. The objective is to have the Courts recognize the State’s obligation to act to limit global warming to 1.5°C.

The conservation of the planet, you said?

The conservation of the planet deals with the taking of concrete measures to limit or eliminate the negative impact of human activities on the environment.

It requires political will, a strong involvement of companies, public authorities and of all citizens.

In France, is environmental law sufficiently established?

There are more than 300 international multilateral treaties and about 900 international bilateral treaties relating to transboundary pollution.

In France, environmental law was constitutionally enshrined in the Environmental Charter and promulgated by Congress on 1 March 2005.

The Grenelle de l’environnement was the subject of two pieces of legislation:

the “Grenelle 1”, adopted in 2008 by Parliament, which sets out the main objectives of French environmental policy, and the “Grenelle 2”, which sets up the concrete elements of the first text.

However, the legal consequences are still uncertain. Does environmental law impose sufficiently binding legal obligations? Are there any sanctions for non-performance?

Some examples…

Environmental labelling of products and services

The Energy Transition Law for Green Growth has introduced a measure to provide consumers with clear and reliable information on the environmental impacts of the products and services offered to them: this is called environmental labelling.

This measure is defined by the Ministry of Ecological and Solidarity Transition as a voluntary approach aimed at providing consumers, in any appropriate medium, with quantified information on its main environmental impacts, calculated over their entire life cycle. It is subject to a classic control in the fight against misleading or deceptive advertising.

Three professional sectors are voluntarily participating in the launch of environmental labelling in France with support from ADEME: Clothing, furnishings and hotels (impact of one night, breakfast included). In addition, two individual companies, major retailers, are leading the way in developing environmental labelling in the areas of food products (Casino) and electronic equipment (Fnac).

This measure allows citizens to differentiate between the products on offer and to choose more environmentally friendly products.

However, as environmental labelling remains voluntary, there are no penalties for non-compliance.

The carbon tax 

In 1992, the United Nations and its Member States, concerned about global warming, established the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

This process led to the establishment of the Kyoto Protocol in 1997, which aims to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The first period took place between 2008 and 2012, and the second is ongoing (2013-2020).

Moreover, France is a member of the Carbon Pricing Leadership Coalition (CPLC) launched at COP21 in Paris in 2015. The objective of this coalition is to put in place measures to significantly reduce gas emissions.

It is in this context that France is introducing an environmental tax, the carbon tax, on emissions of gases responsible for climate change (greenhouse gases, in particular CO2). The latter increases the cost of fuel and is paid for by individuals and businesses. From an initial amount of €7 per tonne of CO2, it was increased to €44.60 in 2018.

Its objective is to encourage individuals and companies to take concrete measures to limit their spending on greenhouse gases by choosing an environmentally friendly mode of travel, for example, by insulating buildings or equipping themselves with more energy-efficient machines.

The carbon tax should have been raised to 55 euros per tonne in 2019, rising to 86 euros in 2020. However, the government has announced a cancellation of the increase initially planned for 2019, following the movement of the Yellow Vests.

Insofar as individuals and companies are forced to reduce their gas expenditure under penalty of being overtaxed, ecological taxation is undoubtedly a sanction against the latter in order to limit pollution and, de facto, to protect the planet.

The strong involvement of all citizens

The conservation of the planet actually requires a strong involvement of all citizens at the individual level.

Each individual is invited to save energy and natural resources, to practice selective sorting and participate in recycling, to minimize one’ s impact in terms of pollution in order to ensure the safeguarding of the environment.

For example, showers should be used instead of baths in order to limit water consumption or to avoid leaving electrical appliances on to reduce electricity consumption.

However, there are no strict and truly binding legal obligations.

The involvement of citizens is a personal and voluntary process. In the new buildings, it should be prohibited to install bathtubs… it is true that this is a little absurd but also intrusive…

No one will be punished for violating this idea as “a breach of the conservation of the planet”.  Marat would not have been murdered in his bath….

Environmental law in France itself at European level is still too often a “soft law” that does not impose legal obligations and does not provide for severe penalties in the event of non-performance on the degradation of air, water, etc.

While some environmental taxes, such as the carbon tax, contribute to the preservation of the planet and force citizens and companies to seek more efficient production processes and more ecological and innovative ways of getting around and living every day, more and more action is needed.

So when will we see the introduction of a more binding law: the establishment of a real independent authority (environmental authority like the competition authority, or the AMF for stock exchanges) capable of sanctioning and above all investigating – with a shame-name list for example) for the conservation of the planet?