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A Paris court has found the French state legally responsible for its failure to meet targets intended to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Billed the “affair of the century”, the case was brought by four environmental groups after an online petition was signed by 2.3 million people – the largest in French history, according to organisers.

The historic ruling found France guilty of “non-respect of its engagements” aimed at combating global warming.

Signed in 2016, The Paris Agreement aimed to limit global warming to less than 2C above pre-industrial levels. France, which brokered the agreement, pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by 2030, and set itself the target of being carbon neutral by 2050.

However, NGOs accuse the government of exceeding its carbon budgets and not acting quickly enough to improve the energy efficiency of buildings or developing renewable energy.

France’s greenhouse gas emissions fell by 0.9% in 2018/19, when the annual drop required to reach its target is 1.5% until 2025, and 3.2% thereafter.

Jean-Francois Julliard, executive director of Greenpeace France, said:

“This is a historic win for climate justice. The decision not only takes into consideration what scientists say and what people want from the French public policies, but it should also inspire people all over the world to hold their governments accountable for climate change in their courts.”

In February last year, plans for a third runway at Heathrow Airport were ruled illegal as they failed to consider the UK’s commitments to the Paris Agreement.