German court throws out climate challenge to Merkel govt


Silke Backsen, center poses with her children Hannes, left, Paul, second from left, Sophie second from right and Jakob, right, in front of a map of the world at the office of the environment organization Greenpeace in Berlin, Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2019. Silke Backsen and her family are one of the three families taking Chancellor Angela Merkel to court, arguing that her government isn’t doing enough to tackle climate change. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

BERLIN (AP) — A German court on Thursday threw out a lawsuit by three farming families arguing that Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government isn’t doing enough to tackle climate change.

The suit was the first attempt in Germany to hold authorities legally accountable for pledges they have made to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Similar cases elsewhere have met with mixed success.

The families, who are backed by environmental group Greenpeace, argued that their farms are already suffering from the effects of man-made global warming and Germany, one of the world’s biggest historical emitters of greenhouse gases, is partly responsible.

But the Berlin administrative court ruled after a one-day hearing that there was no legal basis for the plaintiffs’ claims.

Their lawyer, Rhoda Verheyen, said ahead of the hearing that her clients wanted judges to decide whether the government’s self-set emissions reduction targets for 2020 constitute a binding pledge.

“The German government set itself a target in 2007, and even before, to lower Germany’s emissions by 40% compared with 1990,” Verheyen told The Associated Press.

“First this was a political promise, which then became a plan,” she said, noting that it was repeatedly cited in Cabinet decisions. “Ultimately they are suing to have a promise that we see as binding fulfilled.”

The court, however, found that while the government had made a “political declaration of intent” on the 2020 target, it didn’t constitute a legally binding rule that the plaintiffs could insist on the government fulfilling.

Germany’s environment ministry has acknowledged that it will miss its 2020 goal but that it’s now concentrating on a more ambitious target of cutting emissions by 55% by 2030.

“We are united by the same goal,” the ministry said in a statement.

Anike Peters, a climate expert with Greenpeace, said the new target means the original 2020 goal will be delayed by five years, causing considerable harm to people in Germany and elsewhere in the world.

“Simply by failing to act on climate change, the German government is breaching fundamental rights of people in Germany,” she said. “We won’t accept that.”

Speaking ahead of the hearing, plaintiff Silke Backsen said recent hot summers and stronger storm seasons are putting a strain on the family’s organic cattle farm on the North Sea island of Pellworm. Rising sea levels could make the low-lying island uninhabitable unless global warming is slowed significantly.

“We are in a crisis. It’s simply a disaster,” she said.


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