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Environmental Crime Legal Framework In France

Environmental legislation in France originates from EU law, which is directly applicable or implemented through national legislation. France’s Constitution also contains a “Charter for the Environment”. The Charter contains 10 articles:

  • Art 1. Each person has the right to live in a balanced environment which shows due respect for health.
  • Art 2. Each person has a duty to participate in preserving and enhancing the environment.
  • Art 3. Each person shall, in the conditions provided for by law, foresee and avoid the occurrence of any damage which he or she may cause to the environment or, failing that, limit the consequences of such damage.
  • Art 4. Each person shall be required, in the conditions provided for by law, to contribute to the making good of any damage he or she may have caused to the environment.
  • Art 5. When the occurrence of any damage, albeit unpredictable in the current state of scientific knowledge, may seriously and irreversibly harm the environment, public authorities shall, with due respect for the principle of precaution and the areas within their jurisdiction, ensure the implementation of procedures for risk assessment and the adoption of temporary measures commensurate with the risk involved in order to deal with the occurrence of such damage.
  • Art 6. Public policies shall promote sustainable development. To this end they shall reconcile the protection and enhancement of the environment with economic development and social progress.
  • Art 7. Each person has the right, in the conditions and to the extent provided for by law, to have access to any information pertaining to the environment in the possession of public bodies and to participate in the public decision-making process likely to affect the environment.
  • Art 8. Education and training with regard to the environment shall contribute to the exercising of the rights and duties set out in this Charter.
  • Art 9. Research and innovation shall contribute to the preservation and development of the environment.
  • Art 10. This Charter shall inspire France's actions at both a European and an international level.
  • Featured Legislation

    1976:  Law No. 76-633 was enacted to address unhealthy, inconvenient or dangerous factories and workshops emitting hazardous chemicals into the air. Law No. 76-633 builds upon the decree of 15 October 1810 and Chemical Act of 1917.

    1995: Law No. 95-101 on strengthening environmental protection.This law contains a series of provisions aimed at strengthening the protection of the environment. It is made up of 94 articles divided into 5 titles: provisions relating to the participation of the public and associations in environmental matters (I); Provisions relating to the prevention of natural risks (II); Provisions relating to the knowledge, protection and management of natural areas (III); Provisions relating to waste management and pollution prevention (IV); Miscellaneous provisions (V).

    1996: Act No. 96-1236 (The LAURE Act) was passed and  listed in Article L. 220-1 of the Environmental Code. The Act guarantees the right of everyone to breathe air that does not harm their health. This principle has been constitutionalised and enshrined in the environmental Charter

    2000: The Water Framework Directive was adopted and France transposed it with Act No. 2004-338. This directive reflects the will of the nation to harmonise their water legal systems, building upon the Water Laws of 1961 and 1992.

    2001: The Environmental Code was adopted. The Code aims to preserve all essential elements of the environment:

    • Air
    • Water
    • Climate
    • Fauna and flora
    • Landscapes

    These norms constitute the main provisions of books 2, 3 and 4 of this code, which is composed of eight books (including two devoted to the French Overseas territories). Article L. 110-1 of the Environmental Code provides that:

    • Natural areas, resources and habitats, sites and landscapes, air quality, animals and plant species, and the biological diversity and balance to which they contribute are all part of the common heritage of the nation
    • The protection, enhancement, restoration, rehabilitation and management of the above are of general interest and contribute to the goal of achieving sustainable development. In turn, this aims to satisfy the development needs and protect the health of current generations without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs

    This approach is based on the following principles:

    • The precautionary principle
    • The principle of preventive and corrective action
    • The polluter pays principle

    2005: The Environmental Charter, which was promulgated by law No. 2005-205, received constitutional standing, protecting the right to a clean environment.

    2012:The Environmental Code was modified by Ordinance n°2012-34 regarding the organisation of the environmental police and penalties and criminal punishment in the case of a violation of the Environmental Code.The purpose of Ordinance n°2012-34 is to bring consistency to the different entities in charge of the environmental police as well as applicable sanctions in the different fields of the Environmental Code.

    2012: Law n°2012-1460 strengthened:

    • Third parties’ rights of access to environmental information
    • Public participation in public authorities’ decision making
    • Access to justice in environmental matters

    2014: Article 173 of the Environmental Code was introduced as a  legislative framework dedicated to ‘Polluted Sites and Soils’.

    2015: Ecophyto Plan II.This Ecophyto Plan II is a nationwide sectoral document, developed under application of the European Directive on the sustainable use of pesticides (2009/128), that reviews the Ecophyto Plan I of 2008, and aims to continue the path taken with Plan I by keeping on reducing the use of plant protection products and the risks and impacts relating to that use, while continuing to ensure high-quality and high-yield production and good economic and technical performance. The overall goal of the new version of the plan is a renewal of the 50% reduction in the use of plant protection products under a two-phase time frame (i) the first phase aims for a 25% reduction by 2020 through mainstreaming and optimizing currently available techniques; and (ii) the second phase aims for a 50% reduction by 2025. Ecophyto II also aims at (i) supporting local authorities and other public stakeholders, as well as amateur gardeners, in applying the use restrictions prescribed by law; (ii) promoting the development of collective dynamics and sectors and supporting professional investment in high-performance agricultural equipment; and (iii) aligning all public policies that, whether directly or indirectly, serve as drivers in fulfilling the objective to reduce the dependence of production systems on plant protection products.

    Featured Case Studies: Transnational Environmental Crime, Human Security, and Biosecurity

    • France is taking measures to criminalize harm done to the environment, with punishable fines of up to €4.5 million and up to 10 years in prison. In 2020: A citizens’ assembly agreed on the criminalization of  ecocide in its recommendations for the government. The assembly was comprised of 150 randomly selected French citizens who voted on proposals for combatting the climate crisis; during the meetings, ecocide (extensive damage to ecosystems) was one of the more pressing issues the country is facing today. Ecology Minister Barbara Pompili and Justice Minister Éric Dupond-Moretti announced that a new law will punish those who commit the “general offence of pollution". New environmental courts will oversee these new cases and punishment will depend on whether the perpetrator intended to damage the environment or if it was a result of recklessness. The government is also in talks of considering a second offence of “endangering the environment".  Liability would also be extended in this new legislation, as chief executives of companies or government ministers who commissioned the destruction of the environment would face criminal liability. Environmentalists, however, have criticized the government’s decision, lamenting that instead of being made a “crime" ecocide will instead be an “offence". In France, offences are considered less serious than crimes and, therefore, the classification of ecocide as a mere offence mitigates the severity of harm against the environment. The fear, of course, is that powerful multinational companies operating out of France will discover loopholes and serious environmental damage would continue unabated, escaping punishment.

    References and Further Reading


    French Ministry of Ecology, Energy, Sustainable Development and Spatial Planning: