A court in Germany has rejected a lawsuit filed against the German government for not doing enough to avert global warming. Three farming families backed by environmental NGO Greenpeace sued Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government, arguing that the administration failed to curb greenhouse gas emissions sufficiently to reach its self-imposed 2020 climate target. The families’ lawyers argued that the 2014 decision of Merkel’s cabinet to reduce emissions by 2020 by 40 percent compared to 1990 levels had been legally binding and also said that Germany’s commitment to contribute to EU emissions reduction targets obliged the government to cut the country’s CO2 output. A failure to comply thus violated the families’ basic rights and undermined their livelihood as organic farmers due to crop losses following the 2018 heat wave and drought, they argued. However, the court said the plaintiffs lacked a legal basis for their complaint and dismissed the notion that the 2020 target represents a legal obligation for the government, calling it a “declaration of intent.” The target had now been legally postponed and also the EU’s reduction ambitions did not stipulate concrete measures in Germany, the court argued. If the desired emissions reduction is achieved three years later, “this means that the measures taken so far have not been completely inadequate,” the judges said. The court granted an appeal against its ruling due to the case’s “fundamental importance.”
The families’ lawyer Roda Verheyen said this had been the first time a German court acknowledged that citizens’ basic rights can be violated by global warming. “Even though it did not yet find a violation at this very moment, this cannot be ruled out for the future,” Verheyen said. Germany’s environment ministry (BMU) said on Twitter the court’s decision “does not mean a setback for climate action,” arguing that the ruling helped to settle legal questions and not political ones. “We and the plaintiffs share one goal: climate policy that helps Germany in reaching its climate goals again.”
The BMU earlier this year said it expects Germany to achieve an emissions reduction of about 33 percent by 2020, thus remaining substantially off target. However, recent energy data suggest that, thanks to market developments and warmer weather, CO2 reduction could end up being significantly higher. The case brought forward by the farmer families is not the first climate action lawsuit in Germany. A Peruvian farmer sued energy company RWE in 2015 for greatly contributing to global warming, thereby threating his home due to melting glaciers in the Andes. The court admitted the lawsuit and consultants are currently reviewing the situation in Peru to decide on further proceedings.