30 Apr 2021, 14:04
Sören Amelang Kerstine Appunn Charlotte Nijhuis Julian Wettengel

Reactions to top court ruling that Germany's climate policies are insufficient

Germany's highest court has ruled in a landmark decision that the government's climate policies are insufficient because they lack detailed emission reduction targets beyond 2030. The court said the country's Climate Action Law violates the freedoms of young people, handing a major victory to climate activists who had filed the complaint. This is a compilation of reactions to the decision widely seen as "historic." It will be updated throughout the day. [UPDATE adds reactions BEE, BDEW, development minister Müller and media commentators]

Find our main article on the ruling here: Landmark ruling from German top court: key climate legislation falls short

Here you can find a factsheet on Germany's Climate Action Law, parts of which violate the constitution because they are insufficient, according to the court's ruling.

The court's press release on the ruling is available in English. You can also find the key passages here.



Environmental minister Svenja Schulze (SPD):

"This decision is a clear boost for climate protection. It gives us tailwind for the difficult tasks that lie ahead,” Schulze said. “The constitutional court gives the legislature a clear mandate to create clear legal requirements for the path to climate neutrality even beyond 2030. To ensure that we do not lose any time, I will present the cornerstones for a climate protection law that is further developed along these lines and creates long-term planning security before the end of the summer.”


German development minister Gerd Müller (CSU):

"A further developed climate protection law must also include incentives for CO2 reduction and adaptation investments in developing and emerging countries. Whether these countries rely on renewable or conventional energies is decisive for the future of the global climate," Müller said. "One thing is clear: if we become climate neutral in Germany, that is only a drop in the ocean from a global perspective. 98 percent of CO2 emissions take place outside Germany."



German industry federation BDI:

"The ruling rightly calls for politicians to set long-term CO2 targets in parliament and to discuss them intensively. Basic political goals must be defined by the legislature - not by ministries or courts. Even after the ruling, policymakers have a duty to present instruments that enable everyone to actually achieve targets," the BDI said in a statement. "In a transparent way, policymakers must outline viable climate paths up to 2050 in order to specify CO2 reductions. This creates clarity and planning security for companies to develop new technologies and invest massively, and is in the interest of industry. Through innovation and rapid marketability of CO2-free technologies, industry contributes to combining climate protection and freedoms also in the future. The ruling underlines that climate protection is already anchored in the Basic Law and must always be brought into harmony with other social goals. Climate protection is a generational project. A fair balance must be struck between the generations."


Simone Peter, head of German renewable energy federation (BEE):

"The Paris Climate Agreement was ratified by the federal parliament and the federal council. Today, the Federal Constitutional Court underlines the principle: treaties must be respected. This ruling is therefore an important signal for climate protection and the energy transition," Peter said. "It must now be precisely regulated how the path to climate neutrality can be achieved even after 2030. Clear greenhouse gas reduction targets are necessary to achieve the 1.5 degree target."

"The previous climate targets until 2030 are not even remotely ambitious enough to first achieve the partial targets and to significantly advance Germany on the path to climate neutrality. As a result, correspondingly larger steps will be necessary after 2030, which will then have to be linked to significantly more ambitious measures. We already have to think long-term here: economy and ecology work together, strengthen the business location and create jobs. The sooner the course is set for an emission-free future, the more citizens and businesses can benefit from it in the long term. Therefore, renewable energies must be recognised as the central key to climate protection and appropriate instruments for their expansion in all sectors must finally be put in place,"


Kerstin Andreae, head of German association of energy and water industries (BDEW):

""For a determined transformation to climate neutrality in 2050, the energy industry needs reliable planning and investment conditions that enable this goal to be achieved. The ruling of the Federal Constitutional Court could be an opportunity for a more forward-looking, long-term energy policy in line with the Paris Agreement - for the expansion of renewable energies, the development of a hydrogen economy and climate-neutral mobility and heat supply," Andreae said. "One thing is clear: the sooner we set the right course for this today, the less burden we will take with us on the road from 2030 to 2050. Policymakers must provide the necessary impetus for this, for example by increasing the expansion paths for wind energy and photovoltaics as soon as possible and reforming the levy and apportionment system to ease the burden on electricity consumers. Security of supply must always be considered in all necessary decisions."


Ingbert Liebing, head of the German association of local utilities (VKU):

“The ruling increases the pressure to create clear and more reliable framework conditions for climate protection in the long term,” Liebing said. “Municipal enterprises are already making a variety of contributions to climate protection today, but for this they need reliable framework conditions from politicians - as the judges in Karlsruhe have clearly demanded today.



Christoph Bals, policy director at environmental NGO Germanwatch:
"Tomorrow's freedom and fundamental rights must not be burned up by our emissions today - there is an obligation to ensure this protection through a science-based climate protection law," Bals said, adding: "The protection of fundamental rights also applies to affected people in the global South. This ruling will be a key reference point for all climate lawsuits pending around the world."


Martin Kaiser, executive director Greenpeace Germany:

“Today is a historic day, a day of celebration for all the people, especially young people, who have tirelessly taken to the streets for better climate protection," Kaiser said. "This sensational ruling obliges the federal government to do more to protect the climate. Measures must no longer be postponed, because this endangers the civil liberties of future generations. With this ruling, it is clear that the coal phase-out in Germany must be brought forward significantly, that climate-damaging combustion engines must be taken off the road much faster, and that we need an agriculture that does not further damage the climate and nature but protects them in the future. Today is a historic day, a holiday for all the people, especially young people, who have tirelessly taken to the streets for better climate protection."



Fridays for Future climate activist Luisa Neubauer, who was a plaintiff in the case:

“Climate protection is not ‘nice-to-have’, it’s our fundamental right and from today we know that officially. It gives us everything we need for this year, for this federal election campaign, and for our future work as a movement,” Neubauer said during a Greenpeace press conference. “It is an unbelievably big day for many, but especially for hundreds of thousands of young people who have been fighting for their future for over two years. We have been laughed at, we were belittled, we were discredited, we were told we should leave it to the professionals. We have been told for over two years that what we do is actually an insult, and anything but legal. But today we have been granted justice."


Yi Yi Prue, Bangladeshi plaintiff in the case:

“We are already today suffering from the effects of climate change. Severe monsoon rains with landslides and floods are killing people and many have lost their belongings and houses. The only way we can help ourselves is by forcing those states to act that are heavily responsible for climate change," she said during a Greenpeace press conference.


Sophie Backsen, plaintiff in the case:

“We are very happy and relieved about the decision from the court. The decision is a huge success for us young people. It has become clear that parts of the climate protection law are incompatible with our fundamental rights. Effective climate protection must be pursued now and not in ten years’ time when it’s too late,” Backsen said during a Greenpeace press conference.



Lawyer Remo Klinger, who supported the plaintiffs in the case:

“The court has set a milestone that we haven’t seen before in the history of the federal constitutional court," Klinger said during a Greenpeace press conference. "If we continue the way which is currently laid out in the climate protection law, then to reach the 2-degree goal, which is the minimum of what we have to achieve, we need to achieve zero emissions from 2030. Then the future generation has nothing left to distribute. The federal constitutional court has seen this conflict.”


Felix Ekardt, founder of the Sustainability and Climate Policy Research Unit  and professor  at the University of Rostock, who was one of the lawyers who represented the case:

Ekhardt called the ruling “sensational” and a “breakthrough”. “For the first time, an environmental lawsuit before the Federal Constitutional Court has been successful,” he said, adding that “neither in Germany nor on a global scale has there ever been such a clear commitment to more environmental protection from a supreme court.”

“Our lawsuit has shown that, under [German] constitutional law, zero emissions are needed dramatically earlier than previously envisaged and that the Paris target is binding. It is true that politicians have democratic scope for decision-making. However, under constitutional law, these do not allow the physical foundations of human existence to be put at risk and thus democracy to be undermined,“ he said.


Hermann Ott, environmental lawyer with NGO ClientEarth

"This is a terrific ruling. For the first time, a German court has accepted that we have a limited climate budget left and that the constitutional duty to protect future generations is engaged," said Ott. “The ruling means that the government may need to reform its 2030 climate targets – and is the gateway for many more climate lawsuits in Germany.”


Media reactions

Germany's Constitutional Court ruling that the government’s climate policies are insufficient will have a major impact on the country's election campaign and beyond, media commentators say. “The political impact of the ruling is likely to be enormous,” writes Jakob Schlandt in Der Tagesspiegel. “The judges leave no doubt at all that there is a robust, actionable scientific consensus on man-made climate change,” which results in an obligation for politicians to act, Schlandt writes. In the Süddeutsche Zeitung, Wolfgang Janisch writes that politicians can no longer postpone decisions regarding climate protection. “The defense of fundamental rights against climate protection failures [..] must begin today,” Janisch writes.

In a commentary in Focus Online, Ulrich Reitz says the ruling paves the way for Green Party politician Annalena Baerbock to possibly become the next German chancellor. “The Greens can now make climate policy the benchmark for all legislative interventions,” Reitz writes, and warns of “climate absolutism” that will restrict people’s fundamental rights in a similar way to the coronavirus policies. In Die Welt, Daniel Wetzel argues that the judicial belief that the next generation will be more heavily burdened by climate change is “highly questionable” and not scientifically supported. Clean energy technologies are making rapid progress and their costs are falling, he says, meaning “climate protection will likely be cheaper and easier for the next generation.”

The ruling was also widely covered in international media. The New York Times headlined that the court "hands youth a victory in climate change fight," and correspondent Melissa Eddy characterized the decision as a reprimand of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government. Reporting for Bloomberg, Karin Matussek and Stefan Nicola called the court's decision a "stinging setback" for Merkel's conservatives, saying that it "set off a blame game" in the bloc. Frank Jordans said in an AP report the ruling was groundbreaking because of the court's verdict that the burden of fighting the climate crisis must be shared between younger and older generations.

Stéphane Roland underlined in the French Liberatión how unexpected the ruling was, and that all leading politicians welcomed the court's decision. Mentioning implications beyond Germany in Spanish El Mundo, Carlos Fresneda said the ruling can "open the gates to a possible chain of lawsuits for more ambitious climate change goals in other European courts."

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