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German constitutional court rules that Climate Change Act is insufficient

Out-Law News | 07 May 2021 | 1:06 pm | 1 min. read

Germany's Federal Constitutional Court has ruled that Germany’s Climate Change Act does not provide for sufficient measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from 2031.

It said the parliament must produce new concrete plans by 31 December 2022.

The case was brought by climate protection organisations, including Fridays For Future, and citizens who said that the law was unconstitutional. The judges agreed with them in parts.

The court ruled "that the provisions of the Federal Climate Change Act … governing national climate targets and the allowed annual emission are incompatible with fundamental rights insofar as they lack sufficient specifications for further emission reductions from 2031 onwards". It rejected other parts of the constitutional complaints.

"Most recently, the EU has set itself a target of a reduction of 55% below 1990 levels by 2030," said Alice Boldis, an expert on major projects in the energy sector at Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law. "However, it will be crucial not only that the German government complies with the requirements of the Federal Constitutional Court, but also that the appropriate regulatory framework is put in place, including in the expansion of renewable energy, to achieve the relevant emission reduction targets."

The Climate Change Act aims to ensure that international, European and national targets for protection against the effects of global climate change are met, in particular the Paris Climate Agreement. In order to achieve these targets, the Climate Change Act sets out measures on how the reduction quota of 55% compared to 1990 is to be achieved by 2030. But it remains open how the necessary further reduction in the period between 2031 and 2050 is to be implemented.

According to the court, this violates fundamental rights of the – partly very young – citizens who filed the complaint as high emission reduction burdens are postponed to periods after 2030. Thus, future generations would have to limit their greenhouse gas emissions significantly more than the current generation. The court is of the opinion that "one generation should not be allowed to consume large parts of the CO2 budget under comparatively mild reduction burdens, if this would at the same time leave a radical reduction burden to the following generations and expose their lives to comprehensive losses of freedom."

The judges based their decision, among other things, on the protection of life and physical integrity enshrined in Germany’s constitution. The resulting duty of the state to protect "also includes the obligation to protect life and health from the dangers of climate change," they said.

As a response to the ruling the German ministry for environment and the ministry of finance published plans to amend the Climate Change Act setting out reduction targets of 65% by 2030, instead of the previous 55%. By 2040, a reduction of 88% is to be achieved and in 2045 Germany shall become climate neutral, instead of 2050.