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Environmental Labels, Greenwashing, and Ecocide Tackled by France's New Climate Law

On August 22, 2021, the French Parliament adopted the Climate and Resilience Law ("2021 Climate Law"). In aiming to accelerate the transition to a carbon-neutral and more resilient society, the 2021 Climate Law imposes additional requirements on goods and services manufacturers and distributors, as well as more stringent limitations on the use of language related to climate change and stricter punishment for offenses against the environment.

The 2021 Climate Law sets up requirements for environmental and social labelling for certain goods and services sold on the French market. Such labelling will be implemented in a pilot phase for a period of up to five years and then will become mandatory. The environmental impact taken into account for the purpose of such labelling will include greenhouse gas emissions and impact on biodiversity and/or water over the entire lifecycle of the product or service. The list of goods and services subject to environmental labelling will be detailed in an upcoming implementation decree and will include clothing items, food products, furniture, hotel services, and electronic products.

The 2021 Climate Law will also impose a ban on advertising relating to the marketing or promotion of fossil fuels, starting in August 2022. As of January 1, 2028, advertising for new passenger cars emitting more than 123 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometer will also be prohibited.

The 2021 Climate Law includes provisions related to greenwashing advertisements, specifically banning the use of any wording on a product, its packaging, or in advertising promoting a product or service, indicating that the product, service, or activity of the manufacturer is carbon-neutral or has no negative impact on the climate. Wording based on certifications based on norms and standards recognized at the French, European, and international levels will be the exception.

Another key measure is the creation of the offense of ecocide, as well as an environmental offense of general damage to the physical environment when committed intentionally. Thus, it is now an offense under French law, in deliberate violation of a particular obligation of prudence or safety provided for by law or regulation, to emit into the air, throw, spill, or allow to flow into surface or underground waters or into the waters of the sea within the limits of territorial waters, directly or indirectly, one or more substances whose action or reactions cause serious and lasting harmful effects on health, flora, or fauna or cause serious changes in the normal water supply regime. Criminal sanctions of a maximum of five years in prison and a fine of €5 million for legal entities may apply. When committed intentionally, the offense of general damage to the environment will qualify as ecocide and may lead to criminal sanctions of a maximum of 10 years in prison and a fine of up to €22.5 million for legal entities. Possible allegations of ecocide in climate change claims cannot be excluded, due to the broad definition of the violation.

Compliance with the new requirements created by the 2021 Climate Law should be monitored closely, as the 2021 Climate Law will likely create grounds for new climate-related claims. 

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