Youth Shouldn’t Have to Fix Climate Problems Created by Older Generations: German Court
Germany’s highest court has ordered the government to amend the country’s existing climate change laws and stop putting off effective climate protection, noting that the onus of tackling climate change should not fall on future generations.
The Paris Agreement, which Germany is a signatory to, urges countries to reduce their carbon emissions by at least 40% of their respective 1990-levels within 2030. In keeping with it, at present, the climate change laws in Germany commit to reducing their carbon emission by 55% this decade. But the picture beyond 2030 remains blurry and uncertain — activists across the globe wonder if the burden of addressing climate-related problems, essentially created by older generations, will be pushed to younger people.
The German court’s judgment is a response to this unease, and effectively declares parts of the country’s climate change legislation as “unconstitutional” — because they fail to protect the youth’s fundamental right to the future. “The [current] provisions irreversibly offload major emission reduction burdens on to periods after 2030…” and that violates “…the freedoms of the complainants, some of whom are still very young,” the Constitutional Court of Germany stated in a landmark judgment.
In addition, the court found the 2030-commitment to reduce carbon emissions grossly insufficient, and falls short in ensuring “that the necessary transition to climate neutrality is achieved in time.” To remedy that, the court has directed the government to revise its climate law by the end of 2022, to include clearly laid-out plans that bring the country’s carbon emissions down to almost zero by 2050.
The rationale behind the judgment was that the current carbon consumption by people will leave “subsequent generations with a drastic reduction burden and expose their lives to comprehensive losses of freedom.” In essence, the court ruled that future generations should not have to clean up past messes — it is inequitable, unfair, and unconstitutional.
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“The court focuses on the civil liberties of future generations, saying those rights are being infringed already today,” Roda Verheyen, one of the lawyers who represented environmental groups like Greenpeace and Fridays for Future in the case, told Reuters, calling the judgment “a very clear decision about fundamental rights.”
This isn’t the first time a country has criticized climate inaction and the onus it puts on future generations to climate change. In 2019, the Supreme Court of Netherlands had directed the country’s government to step up its fight against climate change and protect present and future citizens’ right to life and well-being.
Young climate activists in India, too, have urged local and state governments to address climate change with utmost urgency. “I want all leaders to do more — otherwise our future will die soon. They must act now, to save our planet and our future,” Licypriya Kangujam, a nine-year-old activist from Manipur, told BBC News last year.
The recent judgment comes in the backdrop of a worsening climate crisis. Scientists and experts are cautioning that the global emissions have begun rebounding to pre-Covid19 levels, after a brief respite due to the pandemic-inspired economic slowdown worldwide last year. In fact, a study published last week found that 2021 is slated to witness the second-largest rise in carbon emissions worldwide in history — making it imperative to address climate inaction urgently.
And while we wait for more countries to follow the examples set by Germany and the Netherlands, the people of Germany, and activists across the world, are rejoicing. “We are super happy with the court’s decision,” Sophie Backsen, 22, one of the nine environmental activists who had petitioned Germany’s top court, told Reuters. “Effective climate protection has to be implemented now and not in 10 years’ time, when it’ll be too late.”