With temperatures averaging 14°C, 2018 was France's warmest year on record.
The petition was launched by four French NGOs: Notre affaire à tous, le Fondation pour la nature et l'homme, Greenpeace France and Oxfam France.
Several celebrities, including Marion Cotillard, joined the movement.
Marion Cotillard, actrice engagée dans #LaffaireDuSiecle, action en justice d'ONG contre l'Etat français pour inaction face aux changements climatiques : "On ne peut pas demander aux gens de changer leur manière de consommer si on ne les aide pas" #climat #le79Inter pic.twitter.com/CrSHXATYttFrance Inter (@franceinter) 21 décembre 2018
“It is wonderful that there is an awakening from citizens," said the actress on France Inter radio. "But the task is so big that people are in a state of shock. This is why governments which we elected, need to set the example (...) We cannot ask people to change their consumption habits if we don’t help them. We cannot ask farmers to transition to organic farming if we don’t support them.”
Failure to honour climate commitments
In December 2015, France hosted the COP 21 climate conference, setting itself up as a champion of the environment.
Under its lead, countries agreed to sign the Paris Agreement, promising to block the rise in Earth's surface temperature at "well below" 2 degrees compared to pre-industrial levels.
To reach that target, France itself promised to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by 2030. But the country is nowhere near fulfilling its pledge.
On the contrary, carbon emissions have gone up in 2016 and 2017, according to the ministry for energy transition.
NGOs have given the French government two months to reply to the petition.
"If in two month we don't have an answer from the French government, or if we are not satisfied by the answer, then we can go to the administrative court to ask judges to order it to do more to tackle climate change," Jean-François Julliard, executive director of Greenpeace France, told RFI.
Crucially, there is a precedent. In October 2018, a Dutch court ruled in favour of upholding a ground breaking legal order issued against the Netherlands government – a ruling that forces an acceleration of carbon emissions cuts.
(Pauline Bandelier / RFI)