Ten youths brought a complaint against the State of Hessen, Germany, claiming that the state’s failure to set adequate climate protection goals and reduction paths was in violation of domestic environmental law and constitutional law. They alleged that failure to mitigate would have adverse effects on the plaintiffs’ human rights and health, as well as damaging to the environment.
|Defendants:||State of Hessen|
|Law Applied:||Domestic Environmental LawConstitutional LawDomestic Human Rights Law|
|Key words:||MitigationHuman RightsHealthBiodiversity and NatureEnergy|
Court(s): Federal Constitutional CourtDissenting Judgement: NoFiling Date: September 2021Last Update: January 2022Status: Dismissed
Whether the German State of Hessen’s failure to adopt a climate legislation that accurately reflects carbon neutrality targets under Hessen’s Federal Climate Protection Act violates the claimants’ rights under the German Constitution.
On 9th September 2021, in the wake of Neubauer v. Germany, three youth claimants Alena Hochstadt, Dennis Georg and Lily Claudi brought a claim against the State of Hessen ??due to its failure to adopt a contemporary climate legislature.
The claim centred on the failure of German federal legislation to adopt a reduction path for greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) in order to comply with the remaining CO2 budget. Furthermore, the claims highlighted the failure to implement sufficient measures to achieve and review the carbon neutrality targets required by the rule of law (with the goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2045). The claimants argued that the lack of appropriate legislation for climate protection is a violation of their ‘fundamental rights in securing freedom over time.’ They relied upon the Paris Agreement and the German Constitution to plead for the state legislature to lay a path for carbon neutrality.
On 18th January 2022, the First Chamber of the First Senate of the Federal Constitutional held the case dismissed. The constitutional complaints were not accepted for adjudication on the basis of a lack of adequate prospects. Furthermore, it was held that the claimants’ fundamental rights were not violated preemptively as there was no violation of the defendant’s duty to protect as the court saw no evidence that a climate protection act could prevent environmental damage.
THE ARGUMENTS OF THE PARTIES
The Plaintiffs’ Arguments:
- The ten youth claimants objected to the Hessian Climate Change Act, arguing that the current legislation did not satisfy constitutional obligations for climate protection. They criticised the failure of some land legislators to standardise a reduction path for greenhouse gases in law. Some of the land legislation had not specified any reduction paths at all, and some had not specified sufficient reduction paths in the form of specifically permissible emission quantities. This reflects the lack of guarantees towards reduction targets. Consequently, they claimed that their future freedom is not sufficiently protected due to the CO2 reduction burden that could be imposed on them in the future which would imply massive restrictions on freedom.
- The claimants went further by stating that the reduction targets specified in the climate legislation do not offer sufficient reduction targets in the form of expressly permissible emission quantities, either for the regulated periods or for subsequent periods. Moreover, the achievement of the reduction targets laid down in the Land legislation is not guaranteed, further increasing the risk of massive future restrictions on freedom that are disproportionate by today’s standards.
- The claimants argue that at the state level, the state bears the duty to protect lives and civil liberties which coincide with the obligation to protect fundamental rights. In this context, they argue that their constitutional complaint is directed against the totality of the permitted emissions, because only these disproportionately increase the overall reduction burden in the future. They admit that, at the federal level, there is no apparent requirement for establishing emission reductions in specific states, by specific dates, or through the coordination between federal law and states to achieve climate protection goals more closely than has been done to date.
The Defendant’s Arguments:
The Federal Constitutional Court found that, in view of the statutory regulation at the federal level, there was no violation of the claimants’ right to state protection under Article 2.2 sentence 1 and Article 14.1 of the Basic Law. The judge highlighted that denial of freedom of future generations’ complaint could only be valid if it was directed against the regulation of the totality of currently permissible CO2 emissions and not merely against specific acts of emissions of the state.
The judge agreed with the claimants that the issue could not be ruled out from the outset, and that reduction targets could be set for individual federal states. However, in view of the sectoral control approach of the Climate Protection Act, such vertical coordination in the federal-state relationship could take a back seat to horizontal coordination via the individual emission sectors or even be superfluous. At the time, federal law did not contain any overall reduction targets allowing federal states to conduct a violation analogous to a violation of fundamental rights if they permitted excessively large amounts of CO2 emissions in the short term.
By Eva Souchet
Please find the full judgment and other relevant case documents here.
Find the amendment of the Federal Climate Change Act (English translation) here and the new German climate programme (English translation) here. Last edited on 02 September 2022; with thanks to the case editor, Charlie Bevis.
 Neubauer, et al. v Germany  Federal Constitutional Court of Germany, 1 BvR 2656/18 -, N. 1-270 (hereafter ‘Neubauer v Germany’), available here in German [accessed 17 May 2022] and here in English [accessed 17 May 2022]. A summary of the case can be found here.
 Alena Hochstadt, et al. v. Hessen  Federal Constitutional Court of Germany, Decision of the 1st Chamber of the First Senate on 18 January 2022 – 1 BvR 1565/21, 1 BvR 2058/21, 1 BvR 2057/21, 1 BvR 2056/21, 1 BvR 2055/21, 1 BvR 2054/21, 1 BvR 2575/21, 1 BvR 2574/21,1 BvR 1936/21, 1 BvR 1669/21, 1 BvR 1566/21, accessed here (hereafter ‘Alena Hochstadt, et al. v. State of Hessen’), page 7.
 Ibid, page 6.
 Ibid, page 7.
 Ibid, page 8.
 Ibid, page 9.
 Ibid, page 8.
 Ibid, page 10.