Climate Youth Win Landmark Victory in Germany’s Top Court

Students set up candles for the slogan “Fight for one point five” during a protest of the Fridays For Future movement at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin.Photo: Markus Schreiber (AP)


In a crucial ruling, a high court in Germany has agreed with young activists that the country’s climate law is unconstitutional because it puts too much of the burden of solving climate change on future generations. Judges in the Karlsruhe court, the highest court in the country, ordered the government to update its climate law and set much a clearer emissions reduction goal by the end of next year.

The ruling issued on Thursday was in response to a lawsuit brought by nine young climate activists—“some of whom are very young,” the court notedsupported by green groups including Fridays for Future and Friends of the Earth Germany. The suit challenges the country’s 2019 climate law that sets a target of reaching net zero emissions for the whole country by 2050.

“We are super happy with the court’s decision,” 22-year-old Sophie Backsen, one of the plaintiffs in the suit, told reporters at a news conference. Backsen’s parents own a farm North Sea island of Pellworm, and she said that sea level rise was threatening the farm and her future inheritance. “Effective climate protection has to be implemented now and not in 10 years’ time when it’ll be too late.”

The 2019 German law in question makes several specific suggestions to curb emissions in multiple sectors to get to a 55% reduction by 2030. But the targets and goals laid out in the law get much murkier after that. This lack of direction, the suit says, puts a big burden on generations who will grow up and have to clean up the mess their parents left behind. (The original law said more specific decisions about how to implement cuts past 2030 would be made in 2025.)