Neubauer, et al. v. Germany
In 2020 nine young people, Greenpeace Germany, Germanwatch, and Protect the Planet filed a constitutional complain challenging Germany's newly adopted Climate Action Law. They argue that the Act's target of a 55% greenhouse gas reduction by 2030 (compared with 1990 levels) is inadequate and violates their constitutionally protected human rights. They instead call for a 70% reduction. The case was inspired by the Urgenda case.
In April 2021, Germany's highest court ruled that the government's climate policies are insufficient and violate the freedoms of the complainants. The court ordered the German government to specify how emissions reductions will occur for periods after 2030.
Germany's first major national climate law entered into force in December 2019.. The law was enacted to bring Germany into accordance with the Paris Agreement goal of limiting global warming to well below 2°C and possibly to 1.5°C. The set specific annual emissions budgets for 2020-2030, with a goal to ultimately reduce emissions by 55% compared to 1990 levels by 2030. The law also set a longer term goal of greenhouse gas neutrality by 2050.
A group of nine young people between the ages of 15 and 32, supported by Germanwatch, Greenpeace, and Protect the Planet, filed a complaint arguing that the Federal Climate Protection Act was too weak to contain the climate crisis and protect their right to a humane future. The claimants include young Germans and residents of Nepal and Bangladesh. The German's include young farmers whose land is threatened by sea level rise. They argued that a temperature increase of more than 1.5°C would place millions of lives in danger and risk crossing tipping points with unforeseeable consequences for the climate system. They argued that the C02 emission targets under the Federal Climate Change Act would not be sufficient to stay within the remaining CO2 budget that would correspond with a temperature increase of 1.5°C.
The complaint was brought under the German constitution, also called the Basic Law or Grundgesetz and was submitted to the Federal Constitutional Court in February 2020.
Relevant Law and Principles
- Basic Law
- Article 1 (Human dignity)
- Article 2 (Right to Life)
- Article 20a (protects he natural foundations of life in responsibility for future generations)
- Paris Agreement
In April 2021, the First Senate of the Federal Constitutional Court offered a mixed ruling. The court held that provisions of the German climate law concerning national climate targets and annual emission amounts were incompatible with fundamental rights because they lacked sufficient specifications for further emission reductions beyond 2030.
The court recognized that greenhouse gas emissions would have to continue beyond 2030 in order to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement and protect the fundamental rights of the complainants. The court therefore ruled that the legislature should have taken precautionary steps to mitigate these risks and safeguard fundamental rights. The court ordered the legislature to enact provisions by the end of 2022 that specify in detail how the reduction targets for greenhouse gas emissions are to be adjusted for periods after 2030.
However, the other constitutional complaints were rejected, including the complaints of the residents of Nepal and Bangladesh. The court ruled that the German government did not violate its constitutional duty to protect the young complainants from the risks of climate change under Article 20a of the Grundgesetz.
The lawyers for the young claimants called the ruling "groundbreaking." The case continues along the path of the Dutch, French, Irish, and Pakistani cases in that it involved a court ordering a national government to do more to address climate change.
The case sets the following standards:
- Climate change is real and the government and parliament must act to mitigate
- Climate protection is a human right
- Climate protection is justiciable, today and in the future
- Legislators must take their lead from science and present coherent concepts of credible reduction pathways that lead to greenhouse gas neutrality
- Today's generations are encroaching on the civil liberties of future generations by assigning and allowing themselves too many greenhouse gas emissions until 2030: The Climate Protection Act has inadmissibly shifted reduction burdens to the future and to those who will then be responsible.
On the negative side, it has been noted that the rejection of the complaints of the Nepal and Bangladesh citizens makes it harder for nationals of other countries to successfully assert fundamental rights violations caused by Germany’s insufficient climate policy.
- Sabin Center Database
- Grantham Research Institute
- Germanwatch case summary
- Decision Summary from Clean Energy Wire
- Analysis of the decision - All that Glitters Is Not Gold: The German Constitutional Court’s Climate Ruling and the Protection of Persons Beyond German Territory Against Climate Change Impacts by Jasper Mührel