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German court dismisses climate change challenge

October 31, 2019

A court in Germany has dismissed a lawsuit filed by three farming families who along with Greenpeace argued that Angela Merkel's government has not done enough to tackle climate change.

Meeresspiegel steigen schneller Hallig Nordstrandischmoor
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/R. Hartwig

Berlin city-state's administrative court on Thursday dismissed a claim by farmers — backed by the environmental group Greenpeace — that the government was violating their rights by lowering greenhouse gas emissions at a rate slower than promised.

The court said the federal cabinet's political commitments were not binding in the way that the group asserted, adding that the government had room to maneuver in deciding how to meet its obligation to protect property and livelihoods from climate change, and affects such as rising sea levels.

Read more: German farmers sue government over climate change failures

The three organic farming families has cited harvest losses due to drought in 2018 and apples scorched and left black amid soaring temperatures, arguing that a 2014 cabinet decision on climate was a legally binding act. 

The Berlin court, however, stated: "The plaintiffs lacked a legal basis for their complaint."

Appeal possible

The court left open an appeal option, should the claimants decide to take their case to a higher regional court.

The lack of legal grounds, the court ruled, did not entitle the claimants to seek extra action from the government, even though German climate goals set in 2014 would not be fulfilled by next year.

Instead of a 40% cut in carbon-dioxide emissions by 2020, 33% is estimated — in comparison to Germany's CO2 emissions in 1990. 

'Legally enforceable,' says Greenpeace

Greenpeace lawyer Roda Verheyen said the Berlin court in its ruling had, however, "fundamentally agreed" that climate protection was legally enforceable.

"The matter at issue is not purely political room to maneuver," insisted Verheyen. 

The government, represented in court by the federal Environment Ministry, had argued the farmer's lawsuit overlooked democracy's separation of powers.

Germany's Bundestag parliament last week began debate on Cabinet's draft climate protection legislation  aimed at a 55% cut in CO2 emissions by 2030 but widely criticized as containing inadequate measures.

'Testimony to incompetence'

Matthias Miersch, a Social Democrat parliamentarian in Germany's coalition government headed by Chancellor Angela Merkel, said Thursday's court case dismissal still made it clear "which responsibility government and parliament bears."

Opposition Greens party climate spokesperson Lisa Badum described the Berlin court outcome as a "testimony to incompetence."

"When in the future on our fields we can't grow enough foodstuffs, then we'll know which government we'll be able to thank," said Badum sarcastically. 

ipj/rc (AFP, dpa,)