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German court rules federal government violated climate law

November 30, 2023

The German government failed at meeting emissions reduction targets in transportation and construction, the court ruled.

Protesters with signs and the faces of Germany's leading coalition politicians
Germany's coalition has been under pressure by environmental groups to meet its climate change goals.Image: Sebastian Gollnow/dpa/picture alliance

A German court sided with environmental groups on Thursday, ruling that the federal government had failed to meet its own climate goals in the transport and building sectors.

The ruling comes a day before Chancellor Olaf Scholz was due to travel to the COP28 climate summit.

Deutsche Umwelthilfe and the BUND environmentalist groups had taken the German government to court, accusing it of violating Germany's Climate Protection Act, which currently stipulates annual targets for each sector to reduce harmful greenhouse gases.

Specifically, the law requires individual ministries to implement an immediate action plan to reduce emissions if a sector misses the targets of the law, which are the reduction of 65% emissions by 2030 compared to 1990 levels.

In Thursday's ruling, the court said Berlin must adopt an "immediate program" to reduce emissions in the transportation and construction sectors.

Stefanie Langkamp, a spokeswoman for the Climate Alliance Germany network, said the verdict was a "severe reprimand" for the government.

"It is internationally embarrassing and damaging that a court judgment is needed because the German government is not complying" with its own climate laws, she said.

High emissions in transport and building

The government was brought to court for not doing enough to get back on track with its climate goals, after missing emissions targets for transport and building in 2021. 

That year, the transport sector exceeded its CO2 emissions target by 3.1 million tons, according to BUND, and in the construction sector, it exceeded emissions by 2.5 million tons.

"The court has allowed the appeal. The Federal Government will examine the ruling and its justification in detail as soon as it is available in writing and then examine the next steps," Minister of Economic Affairs and Climate Protection Robert Habeck said in response.

COP28 launches climate 'loss and damage' fund

The ruling comes as the coalition government of Chancellor Olaf Scholz has been under over its promises to tackle climate change after another court ruling reduced its ability to respond to the crisis.

This month, Germany's Constitutional Court ruled that the government had acted illegally when it transferred €60 billion ($65 billion) of unused borrowing money from COVID-19 funds to a "climate and transformation fund."

The ruling wiped out €60 billion from the climate fund, which had been worth €212 billion.

jcg (Reuters, AFP, dpa)

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