Germany’s Federal Constitutional Court held Thursday that several provisions in the country’s Federal Climate Change Act of 2019 were insufficient and violate freedoms in the Basic Law. The court described the idea of climate change having severe impacts that affect virtually all aspects of human life.
The case started in 2019 when farming families from the North Sea Island sued the government after a series of unexpected hot summers followed by rising sea levels plagued the Northern parts of Germany. The family alleged that the country’s government was failing to act on climate change. The proceedings were backed by Greenpeace and activist Greta Thunberg.
The court agreed with the plaintiffs and stated that the obligations the Federal Climate Change Act creates to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55 percent by 2030 is insufficient. The provisions also neglect to create emissions reduction responsibilities after 2030. According to the court, “one generation must not be allowed to consume large portions of the CO2 budget while bearing a relatively minor share of the reduction effort if this would involve leaving subsequent generations with a drastic reduction burden and expose their lives to comprehensive losses of freedom.”
The inaction violates Article 20a of the Basic Law (Grundgesetz – GG) which provides for environmental protection for all German citizens. The court stated that legislators must enact stricter provisions to achieve climate neutrality by December 31, 2022.
The decision shares similarities with a Dutch decision in 2019 where the Dutch High Court stated that the government’s response to climate change fell short of the standards necessary to protect the citizenry from threats to their lives and wellbeing that climate change gives rise to.
Similarly, the US saw a case initiated by young plaintiffs in 2015. It was dismissed by the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in 2020 on the grounds that its legal standing and constitutional power for the courts to force the government to halt fossil fuel usage was ambiguous. However, dissenting Judge Stanton languished at the notion that the case presents nothing fit for judicial opinion and applauded the plaintiffs for their efforts attempting to tackle a salient issue.