Constitutional judges call for greater commitment to climate protection

von | 12 / 08 / 2020 | Information center

In a landmark decision, the Federal Constitutional Court (BVerfG) overturns the Climate Protection Act because it does not sufficiently protect “the natural foundations of life, also in responsibility for future generations”. This also has a major impact on housing construction.

The German government can no longer put off climate protection until later. Until now, the CDU/SPD coalition has only formulated targets for combating climate change, but it shied away from implementing concrete measures as to how these should be achieved, particularly from 2030 onwards.

Several environmental organizations such as Greenpeace, Fridays for future, BUND and Deutsche Umwelthilfe, as well as individuals, have brought legal action against the law in the Federal Constitutional Court. However, only real people were admitted as plaintiffs, including Luisa Neubauer, the best-known Fridays for Future activist in Germany, young people from the North Sea island of Pellworm, and also 15 people from Bangladesh and Nepal.

Their constitutional case is primarily based on the fact that the state had not implemented sufficient regulations to reduce greenhouse gases, especially CO2 (carbon dioxide) to stop global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius. With the climate protection law passed, "it is impossible to meet the CO2 residual budget corresponding to the temperature threshold of 1.5 degrees.” According to the plaintiffs, this violates their “basic right to a humane future” and their “basic right to the ecological minimum subsistence level". In addition, with regard to future emission reduction obligations for the period after 2030, their civil liberties will be reduced in general terms.

The first senate of the BVerfG largely followed the arguments of the complainants. The Basic Law - in particular the state objective of environmental protection in Article 20a - also imposes a duty to protect the climate. It held that the state could not simply stand by and watch global warming, and was obliged to achieve climate neutrality.

Stephan Harbarth, Chairman of the Senate and President of the BVerfG, put it clearly in his explanation of the ruling. He said that “one generation should not be allowed to bear the comparatively light burden of reducing large parts of the CO2 budget under a comparatively mild reduction burden if, at the same time, a radical reduction burden is left to future generations. If too little is done now, there is a risk that the young generation will be burdened quite disproportionately from 2030. Harbarth sat in the Bundestag for the CDU until 2018, most recently as deputy CDU/CSU parliamentary group leader.

The decision of the Federal Constitutional Court is available here

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