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CLIMATE CRISIS

German farmer sues Volkswagen over CO2 emissions

A German court on Friday began hearing a case against the Volkswagen group brought by a farmer who claims the pollution caused by the automotive giant is infringing on his rights.

Organic farmer Ulf Allhoff-Cramer is challenging Volkswagen along with Greenpeace over climate damage.
Organic farmer Ulf Allhoff-Cramer is challenging Volkswagen along with Greenpeace over climate damage. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Lino Mirgeler

Ulf Allhoff-Cramer, an organic farmer from the Rhineland town of Detmold, backed by the Greenpeace campaign group, says Volkswagen’s emissions are significantly contributing to climate change and therefore damaging his business.

He claims this is interfering with his fundamental rights to property, health and freedom.

“A corporation with such gigantic CO2 emissions as VW is partly responsible for the damage caused by the climate crisis,” Roda Verheyen, Allholf-Cramer’s lawyer, was cited as saying by Greenpeace ahead of the proceedings.

If the group does not reduce its emissions much faster than currently planned, it will be harming others and therefore behaving “unlawfully”, she said.

However, a spokesman for the court in Detmold on Friday said it had expressed clear doubts about the success of the lawsuit.

The case was adjourned until September to allow time for the farmer to submit additional written evidence and to allow Volkswagen time to comment.

READ ALSO: How climate change is threatening Germany’s forests 

The automotive group has previously rejected his allegations as “unfounded”.

He is trying to claim “individual liability for general consequences of climate change” and that “in our view cannot succeed”, the carmaker said.

Allhoff-Cramer and Greenpeace want to force VW to reduce the proportion of cars it makes with combustion engines to 25 percent by 2029, and to end production of combustion engine vehicles completely by 2030.

They also want VW to reduce its CO2 emissions by 65 percent compared to 2018.

The plaintiffs accuse VW of having known about the dangers of global warming for decades.

READ ALSO: Germany chooses Greenpeace chief as first climate envoy

They say research has shown the board was warned at a meeting in 1983 of the consequences of increasing carbon dioxide emissions and the threat of climate change.

The Volkswagen group – whose 12 brands include Audi, Porsche and Skoda – is pumping 35 billion euros into the shift to electric vehicles and aims to become the world’s largest electric carmaker by 2025.

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CLIMATE CRISIS

IN PICTURES: German summer heatwave causes River Rhine to dry up

A hot, dry July made worse by climate change has caused water levels on the Rhine to sink dramatically. It raises the risk that the German economy could run aground as shipping along the river becomes harder.

IN PICTURES: German summer heatwave causes River Rhine to dry up

The prospect of severe, longer-term limits to traffic spells a new headache for the industries lined up on the river’s banks and threatens to further strain Germany’s efforts to wean itself off Russian energy imports as coal counts among key cargo moved on the waterway.

Roberto Spranzi, boss of DTG, a shipping cooperative, says the volumes that his fleet can carry are already limited by the unusually low water levels.

“At the moment we have a capacity where, we have to use three or four vessels where we would normally need one,” Spranzi tells AFP.

Pointing at the worrying ebb at the entrance to the inland port of Duisburg in western Germany, Spranzi notes that “currently it’s at 1.70 metres (5.6 feet) In theory, the normal water level is over two metres”.

Ship on the river rhine

A ship lies on the dried-out bank of the Rhine in Düsseldorf. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Federico Gambarini

Further up the river in Kaub, a noted bottleneck for shipping where the Rhine runs narrow and shallow, the reference level is forecast to go below 40 centimetres by the end of the week and squeeze traffic further.

As of Friday, the water levels had sunk to 42 centimetres – five centimetres lower than the previous day. 

“We supply factories on the Rhine with their raw materials. When that’s not possible any more — or less often — that’s a threat to German industry, too,” Spranzi says.

READ ALSO: How the Rhine’s low water levels are impacting Germany

Coal power

Around four percent of freight in Germany is carried via its waterways, including the Rhine, which winds its way from Switzerland, along the border with France, through Germany’s industrial heartland and the Netherlands to the sea.

As Berlin turns to mothballed coal power capacity to plug the gap after Russia curtailed its energy deliveries, the Rhine has taken on added
significance as a key artery for coal transport.

But the sinking water level has already led energy providers to warn they may have to limit output.

A ship travels along the dried-up Rhine near the Bayer factory in Cologne. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Christoph Reichwein

Uniper has said the low level of the Rhine may lead to the “irregular operation” of two of its coal plants into September.

EnBW, which runs sites in the southwestern region of Baden-Wurttermberg, has warned that deliveries of the fuel could be restricted.

The dwindling waters have seen “transport costs per tonne rise”, EnBW said in a statement, adding that it had preemptively built stocks of coal earlier in the year.

Alternative routes were available — either by road or rail — but capacity was “tight”, EnBW said.

The Rhine freight restrictions have added to the supply chain disruption seen by industry and increased the risk of scarcity.

Low water levels on the Rhine

Dry ground next to the depleted Rhine in Mainz. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Hannes P Albert

Across southern Germany, a shortage of fuel at the pump has been traced back to the dry weather, among other factors.

“Low water levels on the Rhine mean that in this area very important transportation of oil products, such as petrol, diesel or heating oil can’t operate as normal,” says Alexander von Gersdorff, spokesman for the German energy and fuel industry lobby.

READ ALSO: Germany plans 1,000 extra drinking water fountains

Sinking water levels on the Rhine

An aerial view of the Rheinkniebrücke shows dried-out banks and sinking water levels. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Fabian Strauch

‘Much earlier’

A 2018 drought, which saw the Rhine’s reference depth at Kaub fall as low as 25 centimetres in October, shaved 0.2 percent off German GDP that year, according to Deutsche Bank Research.

“The low levels have come much earlier this time,” Deutsche Bank Research economist Marc Schattenberg tells AFP.

“If the problems we are now observing last longer (than in 2018), the loss of economic value becomes all the more serious.”

Industrial heavyweights stationed along the Rhine rely on the waterway to ferry goods to and from their sites.

Duisburg-based conglomerate ThyssenKrupp said in a statement it had “taken measures” to assure its supplies of raw materials.

The steelworks from Thyssenkrupp in Duisburg. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Fabian Strauch

The chemical giant BASF, whose Ludwigshafen base sits south of the Kaub choke-point, said its production had not yet been limited by the low water levels, but warned that it could not rule out “reductions for specific units in the coming weeks”.

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