BERLIN – In a groundbreaking ruling, Germany’s top court said Thursday that the government must set clear targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions after 2030, arguing that existing legislation risks placing too much of the burden of tackling climate change on younger generations.
The verdict was a victory for climate activists from Germany and elsewhere who – with the support of environmental groups – filed four appeals with the Constitutional Court claiming their rights were threatened by a lack of sufficient targets for the next decade.
Like other European Union countries, Germany intends to reduce emissions by 55% below 1990 levels by 2030. Legislation passed two years ago set specific targets for sectors such as heating and transport during that period, but not for the long-term goal of reducing emissions to “Net zero” by 2050.
The 2019 regulations “have irreversibly pushed the very heavy burden of reducing emissions into the post-2030 period,” judges said in their ruling.
The court upheld the argument that the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement aims to keep global warming well below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), ideally no more than 1.5 C (2.7 F), by the end of the century compared with pre-industrial times it should be a benchmark for policy makers. It instructed the German government to set new targets from 2030 onwards by the end of next year.
In a striking precedent, the court also acknowledged the idea that Germany has a final “budget” for shows before the Paris goal becomes impossible. Although he did not specify Germany’s share of the global carbon budget, scientists said current emission rates could be consumed in less than a decade.
Lawyer Felix Eckardt, who initiated one of the cases, called the verdict “revolutionary” for Germany.
“Germany’s climate policy will need to be adjusted en masse,” he told reporters.
Fellow lawyer Roda Verheyen said the decision would likely mean outlining Germany’s plans to phase out coal use by 2038 in order to realistically achieve the country’s long-term emissions target.
“A simple calculator shows that it will be necessary,” she said.
Germany managed to reduce annual emissions from the equivalent of 1.25 billion tons of carbon dioxide in 1990 to about 740 million tons last year – a reduction of more than 40%.
The current target would require a reduction of 178 million tons by 2030, but a reduction of 281 million tons in each of the coming decades.
Judges said it would be wrong to allow one generation “to spend large chunks of CO2 budgets with a relatively mild reduction burden, if at the same time it means that the next generations remain under a radical reduction burden and their lives are exposed to comprehensive restrictions on freedom. ”
Climate activists have expressed enthusiasm for the verdict.
“Today’s decision has achieved generational justice,” said prosecutor Luisa Neubauer, a member of the Friday for the Future group, “because our future freedoms and rights are no less important than the rights and freedoms of today’s generation.”
Germany’s main industry lobbying group, BDI, has called for transparent and workable goals that will provide companies with the security they need to plan and develop new technologies and make the necessary investments needed to switch from fossil fuels to carbon-free alternatives.
Environment Minister Svenja Schulze said after the ruling that she would propose new measures for Europe’s largest economy in the coming months.
The court’s unanimous verdict plays into the hands of the environmental Green Party, which is leading in several polls ahead of the German national elections on September 26.
Annalena Baerbock, the Greens’ candidate for Angela Merkel’s successor as chancellor, called for “concrete action, here and now”.
She said the Greens want to double the rate at which wind farms, solar farms and other renewable energy sources expand in the next five years, ban the sale of new internal combustion engine vehicles starting in 2030, move the deadline to end coal use and set additional targets show after 2030.
Britain announced earlier this month that it would aim to reduce its emissions by 78% from 1990 levels to 2035, the most ambitious goal of any industrialized country. The UK is hosting this year’s international climate summit in Glasgow in November.
Christiana Figueres, who was key in the negotiations on the Paris Agreement as the head of the UN climate, said that the unanimous ruling of the German court clearly needed to speed up efforts to reduce emissions.
“We need to focus on short-term mitigation and reduction,” she said, adding that this urgency is reflected in last week’s climate summit hosted by President Joe Biden, who announced a doubling of the US 2030 target, which aims to reduce emissions 52 % compared to the 2005 level.
Legal cases in Germany are part of a global effort by climate activists to force governments to take urgent action to combat climate change.
One of the first successful cases was launched in the Netherlands, where the Supreme Court upheld a ruling two years ago requiring the government to reduce emissions by at least 25% by the end of 2020 from 1990 reference levels.
In February, a Paris court ruled that the French government had not taken sufficient measures to combat climate change in a case initiated by four NGOs.
Track the AP’s climate coverage at https://apnews.com/Climate