"What we see right now is that the French state has high ambitions in the law to fight against climate change but that today and for decades it didn't uphold these goals," Marie Toussaint, president of the association 'Affaire à tous', (everybody's business), told RFI Tuesday.
President Emmanuel Macron has painted himself as a leader in the fight against climate change since coming to power in 2017, but environmental campaigners accuse him of doing too little to 'make our planet great again', despite hosting highly touted events like the One Planet summit.
"If citizens must respect the law then the state must respect it too," says Toussaint, who is part of a group of NGOs suing the French government for inaction.
Criticism of the centrist French president’s approach to green issues has grown since Macron's U-turn on anti-pollution fuel tax hikes in the face of nationwide "yellow vest" protests.
However, Toussaint refuses to accept that the protests were against climate action.
"The yellow vests denounced the fact that the poorest people in France are the most exposed to pollution (...) so they also asked for climate justice as well as social and political justice," she insists.
Climate action in crisis
This notwithstanding, the backlash against Macron and his "green taxes" has left the pursuit of climate solutions in jeopardy.
Worse, greenhouse gas emissions have risen since the Paris Agreement in 2015, in which France and nearly 200 nations pledged to reduce carbon emissions to below 1.5C.
"We are asking the state to comply with its obligations (...) and act more for climate justice," continues Toussaint.
Those obligations include reducing its carbon footprint, transitioning to renewables, improving energy efficiency and preparing a national climate change adaptation and mitigation plan.
"The state can, for instance, take action to make buildings more efficient," suggests Toussaint. She points also to better regulation of the private and banking sector.
Lawyers for climate action
"Total, one of the biggest polluters in the world (...) often does not pay taxes in France. The state can also regulate the banks, which finance these polluters."
The French state has two months to respond to the legal action, failing that, the group of NGOs have threatened to take the matter to the courts.
They have been galvanized by similar citizen protest movements in Germany, where farmers affected by drought, sued the government, with the aid of Greenpeace, to force Berlin to tackle climate change.
Toussaint hopes judges in France will find "the state at fault over climate inaction and order it to act quickly to reach its goals and reverse the tendency of growing emissions."
A deal reached at the UN's COP24 climate summit earlier this month was criticised for not matching the ambition of the world's most vulnerable countries.
"We are launching this climate litigation to be the lawyers of the climate and all the citizens who are suffering today from climate change," she said.