The Federal Constitutional Court has rebuked the government's climate protection policy
Photo: fhm / Getty Images
»Historical decision«, »turning point«, »new chapter«: The comments from politics and the climate scene were clear today - and mostly positive.
After the judgment of the Federal Constitutional Court on Thursday morning, several environmental associations and Fridays for Future were partially right that had filed constitutional complaints against the federal government's climate protection policy.
The government now has to improve its climate policy.
"The verdict is a huge success," said complainant Linus Steinmetz, Fridays For Future, to SPIEGEL shortly after the verdict was pronounced.
"The federal government's climate law has always been incompatible with scientific and social realities." He has been on the streets for two years, and now he feels confirmed, according to the 17-year-old.
The same goes for Federal Economics Minister Peter Altmaier, although activists like Linus Steinmetz have also sued his policies.
Altmaier tweeted: »I now feel confirmed by the BVerfG.
We have to implement that. ”However, at the time the Federal Ministry of Economics was seen more as a brake on the climate protection act than as a pioneer.
Altmaier is responsible for the low CO2 price and distance rules for wind turbines.
"We have disappointed many people in terms of climate protection," the minister admitted last year.
Activists like Steinmetz now hope that those responsible will take action: "Measures in the climate protection law that go against environmental interests must be changed." That affects the regulations on the coal phase-out, the CO2 price or fossil heating.
However, the ruling should no longer affect this government.
The court set a deadline for the reforms until the end of 2022.
Okertalsperre in Harz: The regulations in the climate law are not sufficient for climate neutrality
Photo: Jacob Maibaum / Getty Images
What makes the ruling really special is that the judges from Karlsruhe recognize protection obligations and restrictions on freedom resulting from climate change for the first time.
that there is a risk that the very high emission savings in the future will »potentially affect« the freedom of the individual and thus threaten them with drastic restrictions
The legislature must therefore take appropriate precautions "in order to preserve fundamentally guaranteed freedom" and better distribute the savings
The regulations in the Climate Act are not sufficient for climate neutrality, which is why the government must present a timetable for the period from 2031 onwards
"The verdict is terrific," comments Hermann Ott from Clienth Earth, an international organization of environmental lawyers.
The decision is a gateway for many other climate lawsuits in Germany.
"For the first time, we have confirmed by the highest court that we only have a limited climate budget."
Residual emissions: a question of distribution
The “climate budget” describes the climate-damaging emissions that are still allowed to enter the atmosphere without dangerous climatic consequences such as droughts and other weather extremes becoming the norm. This means that failed climate policy in the present causes climate debt for the future - because the necessary savings in greenhouse gases will have to be all the more drastic in the following years.
The court relies on the world climate treaty signed by Germany. It stipulates that the global average temperature should be limited to well below two degrees and, if possible, to 1.5 degrees compared to the pre-industrial level. The UN Treaty, however, leaves open what that means for the individual countries. Each country can therefore make its own climate plans. So far, according to climate experts, no country has submitted a plan that is 1.5 degrees compliant.
Nevertheless, the "climate budget" that remains for Germany has already been calculated: Shortly before the cabinet agreement for a German climate law in 2019, the German Advisory Council on the Environment warned that Germany only had a residual amount of 6.6 billion tons of CO₂ left. if it doesn't want to tear the 1.5-degree goal.
With the pre-corona emissions, this budget would be used up in less than nine years.
The message: It's damn close.
In spite of this, the federal government then presented a law in September 2019 that climate scientists only disappointedly labeled a “political failure”.
The CO2 price was set too low and the climate target too weak, judged economists and climate researchers.
As a result, the climate activists now sued - with success.
»Unfortunately there is only one 'implicit' call to the government to reform its climate targets by 2030«
Hermann E. Ott, lawyer from Client Earth
Now the Federal Constitutional Court is also indirectly referring to these residual emissions: In order to achieve the goal, "the reductions still required after 2030 must then be provided more urgently and at short notice," the judgment says.
The new climate targets could come from Brussels, not Berlin
However, the court criticizes the climate targets up to 2030 only indirectly: Because from 2031 "possibly very large greenhouse gas reduction burdens" would arise, this could violate the plaintiffs' fundamental rights.
Therefore, according to the court, "sufficient precautions" must be taken so that this excessive demand from high emissions does not arise in the first place.
This only results in an "implicit" request to the government to reform its climate targets by 2030, believes the lawyer Ott. "If the reduction in CO2 quantities is not distributed fairly over the next 30 years until 2050, it can also lead to social hardship and drastic measures that interfere with fundamental rights," said Ott. "The court has now recognized this and made it clear to the government that climate debts cannot be postponed." How the government solves this dilemma will then depend on the elections in September.
Perhaps the correction of the lax climate protection policy will come sooner than expected anyway - from Brussels: "The recent tightening of the EU climate target will in any case mean that the German targets will also be tightened by 2030," comments Hans-Martin Henning, head of the Climate Expert Council of the Federal Government. The European targets up to 2030 should also put pressure on German emitters through a higher CO2 price in emissions trading. "That is why the coal phase-out could actually take place earlier than 2038," says Henning. However, he does not believe that the coal compromise will be renegotiated again.
Climate activists in the Netherlands were the first to prove that climate protection can be sued.
There the Supreme Court in The Hague passed a judgment two years ago that obliges the government to take climate protection measures.
The verdict, however, was far clearer.
The judges believed that greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced faster than planned.
Collaboration: Claus Hecking
Collaboration: Claus Hecking