The court argued that the German government’s 2014 decision on climate protection goals for 2020 was not legally binding.
By Jörn Kassow
On 31 October 2019, the Administrative Court of Berlin dismissed a climate lawsuit brought by German citizens against the government. The plaintiffs had alleged that the government was violating their rights by missing certain climate protection targets.
In 2014, the German government adopted its climate protection goals for 2020, which aimed at a reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 40% (compared to 1990). However, the government now estimates that Germany will only be able to reduce emissions by 32%. Furthermore, Germany will probably not achieve the 14% reduction of GHGs which are not covered by the European Union Emissions Trading System (EU ETS), as required under the so-called Effort Sharing Decision, without credits from emission-reduction projects in third countries.
As a reaction, three German farming families teamed up with the environmental NGO Greenpeace to file a claim against the German government. They alleged non-compliance with Germany’s climate protection goals for 2020, the Effort Sharing Decision, and the minimum climate protection measures required under the German constitution.
The Administrative Court of Berlin dismissed the claim, finding that the German government’s 2014 decision on the climate protection goals for 2020 was a mere political statement and not legally binding. The court also stated that the plaintiffs’ rights were not violated by the German government’s alleged non-compliance with the Effort Sharing Decision, since that decision explicitly entitles EU Member States to compensate for missed emission-reduction targets with credits from emission-reduction projects in third countries. Furthermore, the court held that neither the 40% goal for 2020 nor the Effort Sharing Decision represent the minimum climate protection measures which are required under the German constitution in order to protect people and the environment. As a consequence, the court determined that the German government did not violate any rights of the plaintiffs.
However, the Administrative Court of Berlin has admitted the appeal to the Higher Administrative Court of Berlin-Brandenburg, as it qualified the claim as a case of fundamental significance.
Notably, in September 2019, the German government adopted the Climate Action Programme 2030 in order to ensure that the country achieves its climate protection goals for 2030 (see German Government Adopts Climate Action Programme 2030). It remains to be seen if this programme will be sufficient to meet Germany’s 2030 goals, after having clearly missed its 2020 goals.
Latham & Watkins will continue to monitor and report on subsequent developments.