German government loses key climate court case

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German government loses key climate court case
Cars and lorries drive on the A99 motorway at the Munich South motorway junction. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Peter Kneffel

The German government on Thursday lost a key climate case brought by environmental groups, in an embarrassing slap down the day before Chancellor Olaf Scholz was due to travel to the COP28 climate summit.


A Berlin court ordered the government to adopt an "immediate action programme" after failing to meet its own climate goals in the transport and building sectors.

The case brought by the Deutsche Umwelthilfe and BUND environmentalist groups had accused the government of not doing enough to get back on track after missing emissions targets for transport and building in 2021 and 2022.

In 2021, the transport sector overshot its CO2 emissions target by 3.1 million tonnes, according to BUND. In the building sector, the equivalent figure was 2.5 million tonnes.

Officials presented a roadmap to reduce emissions in the two sectors in July 2022, but the government "failed to take a decision on these programmes", the court said in a statement.

The government then adopted a Climate Action Programme in October 2023, but this package of measures "does not meet the requirements for an immediate action programme", it said.

The ruling piles further pressure on Scholz's coalition government which is already struggling with how to honour its climate pledges after being plunged into a budget crisis earlier this month.


On November 15th, Germany's Constitutional Court ruled that the government had acted illegally when it transferred €60 billion euros of unused borrowing capacity from a pot aimed at fighting the Covid-19 pandemic to a "climate and transformation fund".

The immediate impact of the ruling was to wipe the €60 billion from the climate fund, which had been worth €212 billion.

READ ALSO: German government rows over how to plug €60 billion funding gap

'Embarrassing and damaging'

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

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

Antje von Broock, a spokeswoman for the BUND group, said it was "relieved" about the ruling.

"The court has made it crystal clear that the federal government must meet its climate targets," she said.

A construction worker works on a construction site of a newly built apartment building in the south-east of Berlin.

A construction worker works on a construction site of a newly built apartment building in the south-east of Berlin. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH | Monika Skolimowska

"The government must now draw up, present and adopt immediate programmes that are binding, in particular in the areas of transport and construction."

Environmental groups have brought several cases to courts in Germany to force the government to take more action to fight climate change.

READ ALSO: IN PICTURES: Thousands stage climate protests across Germany

In the most ground-breaking case, Germany's constitutional court ruled in 2021 that the government's climate plans were insufficient and placed an unfair burden on future generations.

In response, the government led by then-chancellor Angela Merkel tightened the timeline of plans to slash emissions and brought forward its goal of becoming carbon neutral by five years to 2045.

Germany missed its total CO2-reduction goal in 2022 by around five million tonnes, according to the energy think tank Agora Energiewende.



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