This case is one of ten separate constitutional complaints and one subsidiary popular complaint supported by the NGO Deutsche Umwelthilfe against ten German States (“Bundesländer”). It was brought by three young people against the German State of Hessen in the wake of the Neubauer v. Germany judgment of the German Bundesverfassungsgericht. They contest the State’s failure to chart a course towards greenhouse gas emissions reductions by adopting legislation on climate protection. Like in the eleven related cases, the plaintiffs here argue that the Bundesländer share responsibility for protecting their lives and civil liberties, along with those of future generations, within their respective spheres of competence. According to the plaintiffs, the lack of legislation on climate action on the state level violates the German Constitution and the reductions regime under the Paris Agreement. They also submit that they have a fundamental right to defend themselves against future rights impacts caused by the lack of climate measures.
In June 2021, Hessen’s Climate Change Act was introduced to the state parliament and is currently under debate. According to the plaintiffs, the Climate Change Act in its current version does not fulfil the constitutional obligations for climate protection.
On 18 January 2022, the First Senate of the Federal Constitutional Court dismissed all eleven complaints for lack of adequate prospects of success. In alignment with its argumentation in Neubauer v. Germany, the First Senate recognized that the burden of CO2 emissions reductions must not be unilaterally offloaded onto future generations. However, the First Senate stated the individual legislators of the Bundesländer have not been been given an overall reduction target to comply with, even at the expense of freedom protected by fundamental rights. Thus, according to the First Senate’s decision, a violation of the obligations to protect the complainants from the dangers of climate change cannot be established. As regards to the Bundesländer, the First Senate clarified that they still have a responsibility to protect the climate, particularly by virtue of Article 20a of the German Constitution.
The applicants invoked violations of freedoms guaranteed under the domestic Constitution, especially those in Art. 2(2) of the German Constitution (right to life and physical integrity and freedom of the person), in combination with Article 20a of the Constitution (protection of the natural foundations of life and of animals). They invoked these rights in their ‘intertemporal dimension’, i.e. taking on the framing of the Neubauer case, which considered that failure to act now on climate change means excessively impacting future freedoms.
Date of decision:
18 January 2022
German Bundesverfassungsgericht, Alena Hochstadt et al. v. Hessen, Decision of the First Senate of 18 January 2022 – 1 BvR 1565/21 et al.
For the other related cases see:
For the decision in German, see here.