On December 6, 2021, the youth and young adult plaintiffs Matteo Feind, Jennifer Zauter, Emily Karius, Steven Haseloh and Linus Steinmetz, supported by environmental organization Deutsche Umwelthilfe (DUH; Environmental Action Germany), brought a constitutional claim against the state of Lower Saxony for the inadequacy of its adopted climate law. The plaintiffs relied on the German Constitution (Basic Law) to call on the state legislature to set a GHG emissions reduction pathway, to comply with the remaining CO2 budget and adopt sufficient instruments to achieve and verify the climate protection targets set by the Paris Agreement.
According to plaintiffs, the state’s 2020 Climate Protection Act (NKlimaG) goals for the years 2030 (emissions reductions of 55%) and 2050 (climate neutrality), failed to set intermittent goals and a legal structure for monitoring and enforcement. Furthermore, plaintiffs argued that the NKlimaG’s climate neutrality goal for 2050 violated federal law, where climate neutrality was stipulated for 2045.
The plaintiffs relied on the Constitutional Court’s decision in (Neubauer v. Germany), following which Germany adjusted its climate goals at the federal level. Plaintiffs argued that codification of a constitutional and legally binding reduction path is also required at the state level, as states bear co-responsibility for protecting lives and civil liberties, including safeguarding the natural foundations of life for future generations, within their own sphere of competence. Plaintiffs argued that the Lower Saxony law falls short of these constitutional requirements. Plaintiffs asserted a violation by the state of its duty to protect and invoked their constitutional rights, to defend themselves against considerable future restrictions on their freedoms which – in view of rapidly progressing climate change – are to be considered inevitable and are already reflected in the insufficient action by the legislature of Lower Saxony.
On January 18, 2022, the First Senate of the Federal Constitutional Court did not admit the eleven complaints for adjudication, on the basis of a lack of adequate prospects. Widely in alignment with its decision in (Neubauer v. Germany), the Court acknowledged that greenhouse gas reduction burdens cannot be unilaterally offloaded onto the future. However, in the cases at hand, complainants’ fundamental rights were not violated preemptively, because the state legislatures are not subject to a CO2 emissions budget, which (according to the Court in Neubauer v. Germany) is a prerequisite for such an effect. Rather it is the federal German legislature that is bound by the CO2 budget, but has a prerogative with respect to its implementation. As regards the federal states, the Court clarified that they too are responsible for climate protection, in particular by virtue of Article 20a of the Basic Law.