On 21 April 2019, the German Federal Constitutional Court (‘Bundesverfassungsgericht’) issued a historic judgment quashing parts of the German Climate Protection Act. The judgment considered that the existing measures for climate protection impermissibly deferred the emissions reductions necessary for meeting Paris Agreement goals into the future, i.e. post-2031, thereby shifting the responsibility for reductions onto future generations, who would have to accept dramatic limitations on their freedoms as a result.
In its judgment, First Senate of the German Federal Constitutional Court held that the parts of the German Federal Climate Change Act of 12 December 2019 (Bundes-Klimaschutzgesetz – KSG) governing national climate targets and the emissions allowed annually until 2030 were incompatible with fundamental rights. This finding was based on the absence of specified emission reductions after 2030. The Court emphasized the principle of inter-generational justice stemming from Art. 20a of the German Basic Law.
The KSG creates an obligation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030 relative to 1990 levels. The Bundesverfassungsgericht held that the legislator had not violated its constitutional duty to protect the complainants from the risks of climate change or to take climate action (as required by Article 20a of the German Basic Law) by passing the KSG into law. However, it found that the provisions in questions irreversibly offloaded emission reduction burdens into the future, namely the time period after post-2030. The Bundesverfassungsgericht drew on the constitutional climate goal arising from Article 20a of the German Basic Law, which requires — in line with the targets set out in the Paris Agreement — that increases in the global average temperature should be limited to well below 2°C, and preferably to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. The Court found that the statutory provisions in the KSG on reducing greenhouse gas emissions from 2031 onwards were insufficient, meaning that a great burden would be placed on the enjoyment of fundamental freedoms by future generations. This violated the constitutional rights of the applicants, in the sense of their fundamental freedoms (including, among others, Art. 2(1) GG) in the sense of an advance interference-like effect (eingriffsähnliche Vorwirkung).
In all other respects, the constitutional complaints were rejected. This includes the rejection of complaints about current-day interferences with the rights to life and physical integrity, and complaints by applicants from Bangladesh and Nepal.
The court ordered the legislator to enact provisions specifying the adjustment of reduction targets for greenhouse gas emissions for periods after 2030 in greater detail by 31 December 2022 that.
Implementation measures taken:
24 March 2021
Type of Forum:
Status of case:
Suggested case citation:
German Bundesverfassungsgericht, Judgment of the First Senate of 24 March 2021 – 1 BvR 2656/18 -, N. 1-270, http://www.bverfg.de/e/rs20210324_1bvr265618.html.
Judgment in German