German government sued by farmers over climate targets in landmark case

Farmers who suffered from droughts and extreme weather are trying to hold Angela Merkel’s government to account following a blistering summer heatwave

epa07962182 Attorney Roda Verheyen (C-front), representing the farmer families, Farmers Joerg Backsen (C-L) and Silke Backsen (C-R) prior to a court session in which three farmer families, along with the environmental protection organization Greenpeace, sue the German government over climate policy, at the Berlin Administrative Court in Berlin, Germany, 31 October 2019. For the first time, a court in Germany is observing a case related to the government's action over climate protection. The plaintiff families from the German states of Brandenburg, Lower Saxony and Schleswig-Holstein, will argue in court that the inadequate enviornmental policy of the federal government, led by German Chancellor Angela Merkel in dealing with the global warming issue, leads to a violation of their fundamental rights.  EPA/OMER MESSINGER
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Three German farmers have taken the country’s government to court over its failure to meet climate change targets in the first case of its kind.

The legal case, which began in Berlin on Thursday, pits two livestock farmers and a fruit grower, backed by environment charity Greenpeace, against the government of German Chancellor Angela Merkel as they seeking to force action on national climate change targets after suffering huge crop losses due to extreme weather

“For the first time in the history of the Federal Republic of Germany, climate change is directly brought before the courts,” Roda Verheyen, a lawyer representing the farmers, said.

“The plaintiffs are suing for compliance with the climate protection target 2020 and thus for a real reduction in greenhouse gases compared to what the Federal Government has done so far,” said Ms Verheyen.

The lawsuit is the first attempt in Germany to hold authorities legally accountable for pledges they have made to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“They are suing for compliance with a promise, that in our view, is binding.”

Farmer and co-plaintiff Franziska Blohm said the aim of the case is not to obtain "damages or anything similar".

"We are suing to get the government to keep to its targets and implement its measures," she said.

epa07962172 An environmental activist holds rotten apples at a protest prior to a court session in which three farmer families, along with the environmental protection organization Greenpeace, sue the German government over climate policy, at the Berlin Administrative Court in Berlin, Germany, 31 October 2019. For the first time, a court in Germany is observing a case related to the government's action over climate protection. The plaintiff families from the German states of Brandenburg, Lower Saxony and Schleswig-Holstein, will argue in court that the inadequate enviornmental policy of the federal government, led by German Chancellor Angela Merkel in dealing with the global warming issue, leads to a violation of their fundamental rights.  EPA/OMER MESSINGER

Angela Merkel's government last year admitted it would fall short of its climate target of slashing greenhouse gas emissions in Germany by 40 per cent by 2020, when compared to 1990 levels.

It only expects to achieve a 32 per cent in reductions compared to 1990.

With climate shooting up the political agenda across Europe after a summer of heat waves and protests, Berlin has rolled out a new environmental protection package with the intention of making the country carbon neutral by 2050

The plan, set to cost at least 100 billion euros (Dh 410 billion) by 2030, was criticised for its lack of ambition by both scientists and environmentalists.

Record droughts caused crop failures and put immense strain on German farmers last year.

According to Germany’s National Meteorological Office, the country received only 60 per cent of its usual precipitation for the year, forcing some 8,000 farmers to apply for emergency aid.

Greenpeace climate expert Anike Peters said that the "government has to take responsibility for its constant postponement of effective climate protection measures".

"Chancellor Angela Merkel's so-called climate policy is irresponsible because it threatens the livelihoods of people in Germany and worldwide," she explained.

Speaking ahead of the hearing at Berlin’s administrative court, plaintiff Silke Backsen said extreme weather was putting a strain on her family’s organic cattle farm on the North Sea island of Pellworm. The island is also threatened by rising sea levels.

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

Ms Backsen said she’s hopeful the court will confirm the emissions targets.

“I believe that together we can turn the ship around, so that our children have a future, including in the area where we live,” she said.

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