Family Farmers and Greenpeace Germany v. Germany
Three families and Greenpeace Germany filed a complain against the German federal government arguing that the government's response to climate change was inadequate and violated the fundamental rights provided in the German Constitution.
The Berlin administrative court ruled that the government's climate policy is judicially reviewable and must not be so inadequate as to fail to protect fundamental rights such as the rights to life and property. However, they dismissed the case finding that the 2020 target, as a cabinet decision, was not legally binding and that the plaintiffs had not conclusively demonstrated that the government had violated its constitutional obligations by setting inadequate climate protection targets.
In December 2014, the German cabinet set a goal of reducing national greenhouse gas emissions by 40% compared to 1990 levels by the end of 2020 (Climate Protection Plan).
According to the government’s 2018 official climate protection report, however, the government will likely only achieve a reduction of 32% from 1990 levels by the end of 2020. In October 2018, three German families and Greenpeace Germany filed suit in the Administrative Court of Berlin seeking to compel the German government to adhere to the 40% reduction goal. The German families are comprised of organic farmers who claim they are already experiencing the impacts of climate change. Plaintiffs argued that the government was bound by the Climate Protection Plan, and alleged that the government’s failure to adhere to the 40% target encroaches on their human rights in violation of the German Constitution -- the Grundgesetz -- under Article 2(2) (right to life and health), Article 12(1) (occupational freedom), and Article 14(1) (right to property). They further alleged that failure to meet the original 2020 goal violates Germany’s minimum obligations under the EU Effort Sharing Decision (406/2009/EC).
Relevant Laws and Principles
- Articles 2, 12 and 14 of the German Grundgesetz
- EU Effort Sharing Decision (406/2009/EC)
On October 31, 2019 the Administrative Court of Berlin dismissed the case, concluding that the 2020 target, as a cabinet decision, was not legally binding. The court further held that plaintiffs had not conclusively demonstrated that the government had violated its constitutional obligations by setting inadequate climate protection targets. However, the court did hold that the government’s climate policy is subject to judicial review and must be consistent with the government’s duties to protect fundamental rights under the German Constitution. The court also determined that the government must undertake measures to provide adequate and effective protection of the fundamental rights potentially affected by climate change, including the rights to life and property. Nonetheless, the court concluded that the government is entitled to wide discretion in deciding how to fulfill these obligations, so long as precautionary measures to protect fundamental rights not are wholly unsuitable or wholly inadequate. In the court’s view, the government’s current protection policy, which will lower emissions by 32% rather than 40% by the end of 2020, is within its discretion.
The German court acknowledged that fundamental rights can be violated by the impacts of global warming and that the Government’s climate policy must be based on scientific facts and the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).