German Bundesverfassungsgericht: Constitutional complaints against the Federal Climate Change Act partially successful

In an order today, the First Senate of the German Federal Constitutional Court (Bundesverfassungsgericht) held that the provisions of the German Federal Climate Change Act of 12 December 2019 (Bundes-Klimaschutzgesetz – KSG) governing national climate targets and the annual emission amounts allowed until 2030 are incompatible with fundamental rights insofar as they lack sufficient specifications for further emission reductions from 2031 onwards. 

A press release in English is available here.

The case in short:

By 2030, the German Federal Climate Change Act (Bundes-Klimaschutzgesetz – KSG) requires a reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by at least 55% relative to 1990 levels. It sets out the applicable reduction pathways by means of sectoral annual emission amounts. In its order, the First Senate held that the legislator, in introducing these provisions, had not violated its constitutional duty to protect the complainants from the risks of climate change or failed to satisfy the obligation to take climate action arising from Article 20a of the German Basic Law (Grundgesetz – GG).

However, it held that the challenged provisions of the KSG do violate the freedoms of the complainants, some of whom are still very young. The provisions irreversibly offload major emission reduction burdens onto periods after 2030. The constitutional climate goal arising from Article 20a GG, interpreted in light of the Paris Agreement, means limiting the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C and preferably to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. This means that the reductions required after 2030 will have to be achieved with ever greater speed and urgency. Because virtually all aspects of human life still involve the emission of GHG, practically every type of freedom is potentially threatened by drastic restrictions after 2030. As a result, the legislator should have taken precautionary steps to mitigate these major burdens in order to safeguard fundamental rights. The statutory provisions adjusting the reduction pathway for greenhouse gas emissions from 2031 onwards do not ensure that the necessary transition to climate neutrality is achieved in time. Legislation must be enacted by 31 December 2022 that must specify in greater detail how the reduction targets for GHG emissions are to be adjusted after 2030.

For an inofficial English translation of the judgment from the Sabin Center, see here.

For a comment by Anna-Julia Saiger in the Völkerrechtsblog, see here.

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