In a ruling on Thursday, April 29, 2021, the Federal Constitutional Court in Germany obliged the government to define more precisely the reduction targets for greenhouse gas emissions for the period after 2030.
This formed part of the court’s ruling on several constitutional complaints against the Federal Climate Change Act (Klimaschutzgesetz).
It confirms that the Climate Change Act is in principle a suitable instrument for tackling the challenges of climate change., and that there will now be additional, specific provisions for the post-2030 period.
However, Germany is already stepping up its planned climate action efforts in the years up to 2030 as a result of the new EU climate target. Environment Minister, Svenja Schulze, welcomed the ruling as validation for the Climate Change Act and support for climate action.
Schulze commented: “This decision clearly strengthens climate action. It provides momentum for tackling the difficult tasks ahead. The Federal Constitutional Court has reaffirmed the mechanism that we introduced with the Climate Change Act and that lays down annually decreasing emissions targets for all sectors. I would have liked to include an additional interim target for the post-2030 period but there was no majority support at the time.
“This is why it is a positive development that the Federal Constitutional Court is now ruling out the option of shying away from future action. The Federal Constitutional Court gives the legislator a clear mandate to establish clear legislative provisions beyond the year 2030 for the path to climate neutrality. To ensure we do not lose any time, I will present key elements for an updated Climate Change Act before the end of the summer to create long-term planning certainty.
“The German government has taken many steps to improve climate action in recent years. During Germany’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union in 2020, we were able to reach agreement on a significantly more ambitious EU climate target and to submit this to the United Nations. The new EU climate target will also make a considerable contribution to more climate action in Germany in the period up to 2030.
“For example, a stricter emissions trading scheme will greatly accelerate the energy transition away from fossil energy sources and towards renewable energies in the years ahead. By doing this, we can comply with the call from the Federal Constitutional Court to ensure that climate action measures are not delayed until a much later point in time.”
In a reaction to the development, Ottmar Edenhofer, Director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and the Mercator Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change, submitted: “The ruling is important because it strengthens the rights of future generations to a safe environment and obligates policymakers to a long-term commitment. It confirms in legal terms what research has been saying for quite some time: first, greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels threaten our children’s rights, their freedom and security.
“Second, we must not postpone the transition to clean energy into the future, but start quickly and then keep on going permanently. And third, we need concrete measures instead of ever more ambitious targets that eventually are not met. Economically speaking, it will also be more expensive the longer we wait.
“However, the ruling does not oblige German policymakers to set more ambitious climate targets; they simply have to set out the measures they will use to achieve them. German emissions will have to fall more sharply not because of this ruling, but because of the European Union’s tightening of targets.
“A second emissions trading scheme for transport and heat at EU level will enable a credible path to greenhouse gas neutrality by 2050, giving companies the planning certainty they need to invest in clean innovations. They now see even more clearly the risks, including legal risks, of climate-damaging business practices. But climate change is not destiny, it is a mandate to act.”