Legal opinion: Germany violates climate protection law
Berlin The transport and building sectors are expected to have failed to comply with the upper limits for CO2 emissions set out in the Federal Climate Protection Act for the third year in a row. When the Federal Environment Agency publishes the German greenhouse gas balance for 2022 on Wednesday, the climate targets are likely to have been missed again by both sectors. A legal opinion now sees this as a violation of the entire federal government against the Climate Protection Act.
After that, the government failed to adopt measures in good time to compensate for the shortcomings in the climate targets in the two sectors. This is the result of a report by the Günther law firm in Hamburg, which was commissioned by the development and environmental organization Germanwatch. The report is available to the Handelsblatt.
According to the lawyers, the responsibility does not lie solely with the ministries that have not met the climate targets. Rather, the Climate Protection Act assigns the federal government the obligation to adopt an emergency program as quickly as possible that ensures compliance with the Climate Protection Act.
The author of the report, lawyer Ulrich Wollenteit, emphasizes: “Reference to the failures of the specialist departments does not relieve the federal government of its responsibility.” Ultimately, it is the responsibility of the Federal Chancellor to ensure that a decision is made in good time.
Germany has committed to reducing its CO2 emissions by 65 percent by 2030 compared to 1990. This is provided for in the climate protection law, which was launched by the grand coalition in 2020.
Sharpening required by the legislature
In addition, the law stipulates upper emission limits for each of the climate protection-relevant sectors for each year. If these upper limits are breached, the responsible departments must draw up an immediate program to compensate for the backlog after an assessment by the Expert Council for Climate Issues. However, the Climate Protection Act does not provide for sanctions.
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The Expert Council for Climate Issues has the legal mandate to review the data on greenhouse gases for the previous year presented by the Federal Environment Agency once a year. The Council has one month to do this. Another three months later, the emergency programs must be available, which the Federal Government must discuss and decide on after further examination by the Expert Council.
Brigitte Knopf, Secretary General of the Berlin climate research institute MCC and deputy chairwoman of the expert council, told the Handelsblatt: “The decision on the measures to be taken should be made promptly.” The Climate Protection Act says “as soon as possible,” she said. After all, the next emergency program will soon be due again because of a possible missed target again.
The Climate Protection Act does not specifically define by when an emergency program must compensate for excessive emissions. For this reason, the Expert Council had already called for the legislature to tighten up last year.
According to a legal opinion, the Climate Protection Act requires compliance with the annual sectoral emission levels in the following year. Just complying with the cumulative emission levels up to 2030 is not enough.
CDU: credibility of Olaf Scholz is at stake
The emergency program presented by the Ministry of Transport last summer was also rejected as insufficient by the Council of Experts on Climate Issues. The program of Federal Building Minister Klara Geywitz (SPD) had been judged more leniently. But here, too, it was said that the targets in the building sector would probably be further missed in the next few years. They could only be reached again from 2028. According to the experts, it appears questionable whether the savings can really be realized to this extent.
Climate researcher Knopf also points to the responsibility of the entire federal government. The Ministry of Transport must first submit an emergency program, she said. But then the climate protection law provides for the entire federal government to discuss it. “So the delay in the emergency program is not just the responsibility of the Ministry of Transport, but the entire federal government has a duty to act and bring about a decision.” The Chancellor therefore has “a special obligation and responsibility”.
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Andreas Jung, spokesman for climate protection and energy for the CDU/CSU parliamentary group, said: “If Olaf Scholz does not want to lose any credibility in climate protection, then he must act immediately at the latest.” present a package with convincing measures for the climate targets in the transport and building sector in the short term.
“How can citizens and companies be credibly encouraged to take strong climate protection measures if the government itself does not even fulfill its legal obligations?” asked Jung. All coalition partners are now required.
Christoph Bals, political director of Germanwatch, called on the federal government to ensure “that such a breach of the law does not happen again”.
Debate on annual sector targets
The economist Hubertus Bardt from the Cologne Institute for Economic Research (IW) said that politicians had “set themselves a trap” with the strict annual sector targets. If a goal cannot be reached at a reasonable cost at a point in time, “you have to admit that,” he told the Handelsblatt. “Of course you can get things done with a crowbar, but this can result in high social and economic costs.”
FDP parliamentary group leader Lukas Köhler considers the climate protection law in its current form to be “not practical”. Nobody can predict the technological and economic development in the coming years exactly, he said. Therefore, annual sector targets would inevitably have to be arbitrary and based on speculation. Köhler spoke out in favor of replacing the annual sector targets with multi-year, cross-sector accounts.
Matthias Miersch, Deputy Chairman of the SPD-Bundestag faction, defended the annual sector targets. “The central spirit of the law is to prevent it being postponed until the end of the day,” Miersch told the Handelsblatt.
But Miersch also sees the entire government as having a duty. “We are currently seeing that the adoption of an effective immediate program is a major challenge, especially in the area of mobility”, but that ultimately the entire federal government must meet it.
Above all, the Greens see them FDP in duty. “It is frightening how a single minister is taking the entire federal government into kinship by his attitude of refusal and is blocking important decisions in the cabinet,” says Green climate expert Lisa Badum. “When the emission figures for 2022 are presented, it will become even clearer how big the gap in the transport sector is.”
In the coalition agreement, the federal government had set itself the goal: “We will launch and complete an immediate climate protection program with all the necessary laws and projects by the end of 2022.” Such a program should ensure that Germany is on the right path to its climate protection goals for 2030 to reach. However, it is not available to this day.
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