May 18, 2021

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The German court orders the revision of the climate law to ease the burden on the younger generation: NPR

The German court orders the revision of the climate law to ease the burden on the younger generation: NPR

Activists argue for better climate protection at a demonstration in Stuttgart, Germany last month.

Christoph Schmidt / dpa / picture alliance via Getty Images


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Christoph Schmidt / dpa / picture alliance via Getty Images


Activists argue for better climate protection at a demonstration in Stuttgart, Germany last month.

Christoph Schmidt / dpa / picture alliance via Getty Images

Germany’s highest court sided with young activists in a landmark climate case, ruling on Thursday that some aspects of the country’s climate protection legislation are unconstitutional because they place too much weight on reducing greenhouse gas emissions to younger generations.

The Constitutional Court allows the government until the end of next year to set clearer objectives for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions starting from 2031, defining the current provisions “incompatible with fundamental rights” because they lack specificity and “irreversibly download the higher costs of reducing emissions “over the next decade and beyond.

“These future emission reduction obligations impact virtually every kind of freedom because virtually all aspects of human life still involve the emission of greenhouse gases and are therefore potentially threatened by drastic restrictions after 2030,” the court explained. in a statement. “Therefore, the legislator should have taken precautionary measures to mitigate these large burdens in order to safeguard the freedom guaranteed by fundamental rights.”

The case was presented by nine climate activists – “some of whom are still very young,” as the court noted – with the support of environmental organizations, who are celebrating the verdict as a historic victory.

At issue is the German climate change law of 2019, which requires Germany to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 55% – compared to 1990 levels – by 2030. It sets maximum limits for emissions in various sectors in that period, but does not provide specific targets in line with its long-term goal of achieving greenhouse gas neutrality by 2050.

Plaintiffs filed four complaints arguing, in part, that by not setting specific enough targets for subsequent years, the act violated their fundamental right to a human future. The court agreed.

“The legal provisions on adjusting the greenhouse gas emission reduction path from 2031 onwards are not sufficient to ensure that the necessary transition to climate neutrality is achieved in time,” he said.

The court, however, rejected some of the applicants’ other arguments, saying for example that it could not prove that the government had violated its constitutional duty to protect them from the risks of climate change.

The judges also addressed the balance of freedom and burden in the country’s effort to combat climate change. At some point in the future, they said, “even severe losses of freedom may be deemed proportionate and justified by constitutional law in order to prevent climate change.”

“One generation must not be allowed to consume large portions of the CO2 budget while still bearing a relatively smaller share of the reduction effort if that involves leaving subsequent generations with a drastic burden of reduction and exposing their lives to global losses of freedom,” they wrote .

The German government has until the end of December 2022 to issue legislation specifying clearer reduction targets for the post-2030 period.

Officials reacted quickly to the decision on Thursday. Peter Altmaier, the Minister of Energy and the Economy, called it “great and significant”, while Annalena Baerbock – candidate for the Chancellor of the Greens – called historical.

Olaf Scholz, the finance minister, said he will start working on the amendments immediately, in collaboration with the environment ministry. And Svenja Schulze, the environment minister, wrote in a series of tweets which will present new climate proposals this summer.

The people involved in the case are celebrating the court’s ruling and the mandate it established as a result, according to a joint statement from several environmental organizations.

Roda Verheyen, a lawyer representing young activists, praised the judges for recognizing the urgency of the climate crisis and interpreting climate protection as a human right.

One of the complainants, Sophie Backsen, said her family is already suffering the consequences of climate change on their home island of Pellworm, where rising sea levels threaten their farm and community. She celebrated the verdict as a success for young people already affected by climate change and said it is motivating her to keep fighting.

Action needs to be taken to protect the climate now, not ten years from now, he said.

Those remarks were echoed by Luisa Neubauer, a fellow plaintiff and one of Germany’s leading climate activists, who described climate change as not “nice to have” but rather a fundamental right.

“The fundamental rights of young people to a human future” are threatened by climate inaction, according to today’s court ruling, “he wrote. in a tweet. “This can change a lot, not just for us here in Germany, but for activists all over the world.”

Several activists in other countries have attempted to combat climate change through the legal system, but few have been victorious.

In a groundbreaking 2015 case, an environmental advocacy group in the Netherlands filed a class action claiming the government failed to protect its citizens and asked a judge to order officials to cut carbon emissions. The case went all the way to the Dutch Supreme Court, which ruled in 2019 that the government must cut emissions by at least 25% from 1990 levels by the following year. And in February 2021, a Paris court ruled that France had not taken sufficient action to combat climate change, siding with four NGOs and holding the French state responsible for failing to meet its greenhouse gas reduction targets.

The lengthy legal effort to promote such a case in the US has so far been unsuccessful.

The lawsuit, called a “Children’s Climate Case”, was filed in 2015 on behalf of a group of children and adolescents and claims that the US government violated their constitutional rights to life, liberty and property by continuing to use and promote fossil fuels knowing that they destabilize the climate and endanger future generations.

It has since gone through federal courts. A United States Court of Appeals refused to re-examine the case in February 2021, and the plaintiffs’ attorneys promised to take him to the Supreme Court.


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