The latest intervention from the German Federal Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe has declared the country’s climate protection act from 2019 insufficient and partly unconstitutional.
Under the climate change law, Germany had been obliged to cut carbon emissions by 55% of their levels in 1990 by 2030. It also set out annual quotas for different sources of CO2 emissions including transport, agriculture and buildings for this period, and stated that Germany would follow the rest of the EU in reaching net-zero emissions by 2050.
However, the Court deemed this target to be “insufficient”, saying “the regulations irreversibly postpone high emission reduction burdens until periods after 2030”. The judges decided that the vagueness in post-2030 emissions reductions placed too much pressure on future generations, risking them to "engage in radical abstinence”.
The German coalition government responded quickly to the ruling with finance minister Olaf Scholz and environment minister Svenja Schulze, both of the SPD, laying out a proposal to alter the targets. The new targets aim for a 65% reduction in emissions by 2030, 88% by 2040 and carbon neutrality by 2045. This may mean accelerating the phase-out of coal and increasing the carbon price on heating and transport.
Svenja Schulze, the environment minister. Photo: Olaf Kosinsky, CC BY-SA 3.0 DE, via Wikimedia Commons.
This development in German climate policy has taken place in spite of the country’s recent performance, which has appeared to be relatively successful. The 2020 goal of a 40% reduction in emissions compared to 1990 was successfully reached, albeit with help of the COVID-19 pandemic. Chancellor Angela Merkel also agreed to greater cooperation on climate change with France and China after talks with their respective presidents, and promoted Germany’s successful CO2 pricing model to the rest of the developed world at the Petersberg Climate Dialogue.
Nevertheless, Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Sibert referred to the new ruling as “pioneering” and Olaf Scholz called it a “very special day”. Most politicians were clearly in support of the judgement and agreement. Cabinet minister for economic affairs and energy Peter Altmaier of the CDU also called it “epoch-making” but publicly disagreed with Scholz over which party of the ‘Grand Coalition’ was at fault for weaknesses in the original law.
Luisa Neubauer of Germany’s Fridays for Future, the environmental group that backed the small group of young activists who pushed the legal case forward along with Friends of the Earth Germany (BUND), was also full of praise for the result, seeing it as a victory over the government. Meanwhile, the Green Party’s co-leader Robert Habeck was one of the only vocal critics of the government for not delivering on climate change amid the judgement.
The party, who’s main focus is green politics, have been pushing the coalition government to double its investment in climate protection measures by €8bn by 2025. The Green Party has also been putting the CDU and SPD under pressure in the latest opinion polls from ‘Deutschlandtrend’ ahead of the national federal election in September. A recent surge places them in first position with 26% of the vote, in front of the CDU.
The judgement highlights the importance of climate in the political landscape in the run up to the election. Although the CDU hopes the judgement and new emissions plan will aid post-coalition negotiations, the centre-right party’s somewhat green economic approach led by Armin Laschet may not be enough to get them a win. They now face a very real threat from the Green Party, who have been aided by the Constitutional Court, with their aim of using climate policy to take the chancellery away from the CDU, Merkel and Laschet.