Existence question: Organic farmer Ulf Allhoff-Cramer with cows near Detmold
Photo: Daniel Mueller / Greenpeace
"We have to make peace with nature again," says organic farmer Ulf Allhoff-Cramer in a video distributed by the environmental organization Greenpeace.
This means conflict instead of peace for the car manufacturer Volkswagen.
On Friday, the public hearing of a Greenpeace-supported lawsuit by the farmer against the group will begin before the Detmold district court.
Allhoff-Cramer is suing for the omission of the "excessive" emission of carbon dioxide.
Greenhouse gas emissions would have to fall by 65 percent compared to 2018.
The required consequence: From now on, no more than a quarter of the cars sold by Volkswagen should be equipped with combustion engines, and the business with petrol and diesel drives should end by 2030 at the latest.
Volkswagen dismissed the lawsuit as “unfounded” on Tuesday.
The plaintiff is demanding "individual liability for the general consequences of climate change" and "from our point of view this cannot be successful," explained the Wolfsburg car manufacturer.
"We will therefore move to dismiss the lawsuits."
"In a free and democratic legal system, the key decisions are to be made by the legislature," explained VW.
Disputes before civil courts through lawsuits against "individual companies singled out for this purpose" are not suitable for meeting the complex challenges of climate protection.
With a wide range of electrified vehicles, Volkswagen is also contributing to a rapid switch to electromobility.
The goal it has set itself is already ambitious: by 2030, VW wants to have 70 percent electric cars and 40 percent less CO₂ emissions per vehicle, and the entire company, including production, is to become "climate-neutral on balance sheet" by 2050.
Can a private person demand more active action against the climate crisis from a private company, and through legal means?
Allhoff-Cramer sees himself as a victim of the climate crisis, for which Volkswagen, as the second largest car manufacturer, is partly responsible.
After the drought summer of 2018, he had to give his cows the feed intended for the winter in the summer, reports the farmer.
The field was completely brown, and then two more years of drought followed.
"It's simply existential for us," he says of global warming.
He also wants to hold Volkswagen liable for damage to his forest.
It is "very clear that there has to be a fundamental change in business policy" - get out of fossil technology immediately.
The lawsuit is reminiscent of a similar case being heard before the Higher Regional Court in Hamm.
In 2015, the Peruvian farmer Saúl Luciano Lliuya filed his claim for damages against the energy company RWE.
The melting of a nearby Andean glacier is threatening its existence, part of which can be traced back to the emissions from the German RWE coal-fired power plants.
The court plans to hear evidence in Peru this summer.
In the Netherlands, the oil company Shell was sentenced to more climate protection in a private law proceeding in May 2021.
Shell must reduce its emissions by 45 percent by 2030, including those from vehicles running on Shell fuel.
Since then, the company has announced a stricter, voluntary reduction target of 50 percent, but has also appealed the verdict.
Shell boss Ben van Beurden called the verdict "deeply disturbing".
Climate change is "a social problem that cannot be solved by a single company".
In the meantime, the group has given up its second headquarters in the Netherlands and now only operates in London.
In Braunschweig, Greenpeace is still waiting for further proceedings to be opened against Volkswagen by two managing directors of the organization and an activist from "Fridays for Future".
Internally warned as early as 1983
"The company must recognize that it is only entitled to a certain share of the finite global greenhouse gas budget," said Greenpeace lawyer Roda Verheyen in an interview with manager magazin.
This budget will be exceeded if, after 2029, VW still approves combustion engines, which will then remain on the road for another 15 years.
"VW then violates its traffic safety obligations." Verheyen refers to calculations by the International Energy Agency and the International Council on Clean Transportation as to how many CO₂ emissions for the automotive industry would still be compatible with the goal of the Paris climate agreement.
According to Greenpeace, Volkswagen's car division alone causes 1 percent of global emissions.
The complaint also underscores the responsibility of the company's management with past misconduct.
Volkswagen has known about the dangers of climate change for decades and deliberately kept them secret.
Research had shown that the group's board of directors had been informed "since 1983 at the latest about the threatening consequences of global warming and the proportion of damage caused by cars with internal combustion engines," Greenpeace said on Wednesday.
According to the research, which was also reported on by SWR, a board member warned at a board meeting at the time of the consequences of increasing CO₂ emissions in traffic and the threat of climate change.
Accordingly, reference was made to the latest US studies on "far-reaching consequences in connection with climate change".
The studies had also identified concrete measures to prevent the further combustion of fossil fuels.
However, the supervisory board warned against "anti-car demands such as a driving ban, speed limit".
Volkswagen must “protect its own business model”.
Therefore, according to SWR, the publication of the warning notices was stopped.