The German climate law is partly unconstitutional, the German Constitutional Court has ruled. The government must define more precisely how it intends to achieve its climate targets by the end of next year. In doing so, the Court largely supports a group of young complainants, including some members of the German Fridays for Future movement. They rely on their ‘right to a future’.
The German Climate Act was introduced in 2019. In the law, which was the result of the Paris Climate Agreement, the German Government undertakes to contribute to keeping global warming below 2 degrees, preferably below one and a half degrees. To achieve this, emissions of gases must be at least 55% less by 2030 than in 1990 and the objective is to be climate-neutral by 2050. Young people want higher ambitions; 70 percent less emissions by 2030, otherwise other targets would not be achieved.
The judges in Karlsruhe are part of this. They leave the 2030 climate target unaffected, but require the government to adapt the law and define more precisely how the government intends to reduce emissions to zero after 2030 and limit global warming.
Since a comprehensive plan has now been drawn up only before 2030, the government is shifting responsibilities, or as the judges describe it as a “radical reduction tax”, to a next generation.
Thus, according to the Court, the climate law is contrary to Article 20a of the German Constitution. It states that ‘the state has a responsibility for future generations to come to protect the environment and animals by means of legislation and case-law’.
In the future, far-reaching restrictions of freedom may be necessary to protect the climate, the judges write, and it is up to the government to hand over the country in such a state that “it cannot be saved simply by radical abstinence or austerity”.
The judgment is welcomed by climate activists. “This is a big day for all those hundreds of thousands of young people who have taken Fridays For Future,” says German climate activist Luisa Neubauer on Twitter. She was one of the nine young people who brought the case before the Court.
“ We are laughed at, we have looked down on us, we should leave it all to the profi‘s,” she says in an interview with the ARD. “But today we get right. It is said not only that climate protection is a fundamental right, but also that the state is obliged to protect us by pursuing a cross-generational climate policy.”
The first reactions also come from the government and the reproaches fly back and forth. According to Minister Scholz of Finance (SPD), the Ministry of Economic Affairs has so far been mainly on the brakes. “Always talking about big climate goals, but acting, hey.”
Minister for Economic Affairs Peter Altmaier (CDU) admits that mistakes have been made. “We have done a lot for the climate. Some decisions came late, some even too late.” But according to Altmaier, looking back doesn’t help. “We must now transpose the judgment of the Court and thus make the road to climate neutrality irreversible.”