This past November, two cases were filed against Germany’s federal government. One, occurring on Nov. 15, 2023, claimed that a leftover €60 billion of COVID-19 relief money had been wrongfully repurposed as climate relief money. On Nov. 30, 2023, a different case claimed that the German government had not met the demands outlined in its Federal Climate Protection Act. Both cases ruled in favor of the group challenging the German government, displaying the complexities involved in Germany’s climate response.

Dr. Christiane Gerstetter is a senior lawyer working for ClientEarth, an organization of lawyers and policy experts dedicated to enacting climate change legislation around the globe. Employed in ClientEarth’s German office, she breaks down the two cases in her Feb. 1 webinar. The webinar, open to anybody who wanted to join, was hosted by Prof. von Mering (GRALL, WGS) sponsored by the Center for German and European Studies. 

Gerstetter started by summarizing the Nov. 30 case, officially recognized as DUH Deutsche Umwelthilfe/Environmental Action Germany and BUND Bund für Umwelt und Naturschutz Deutschland/German Federation for Environment and Nature Conservation v. Germany. She explained how Germany’s Federal Climate Protection Act, originally passed in 2019, set annual greenhouse gas emission limits for each sector of the German government, including waste management, agriculture, housing, transportation, industry and energy. The case was brought to the Berlin-Brandenburg Higher Administrative Court by BUND and DUH after greenhouse gas emissions for transportation and housing exceeded their sector limits. The court ruled in favor of BUND and DUH, requiring the German government to meet the emission limits as described in the original act. 

While the initial ruling of DUH and BUND v Germany seems promising for the two non-government organizations, Gerstetter explained that the case is not exactly open-and-shut. Not only is the initial ruling subject to appeal, but the German government has not yet released their plans to meet the emission limits. According to Gerstetter, rumors have been circulating that there isn’t enough money to make them a reality. Additionally, revisions to the original Federal Climate Protection Act are in progress and could end up altering the case. Gerstetter explained that the main revision would be to dissolve the sector-based plan in favor of a general emission limit, a change which she thinks would be unfavorable. On June 24, 2024, the German parliament will review these revisions. 

Gerstetter then explained the Nov. 15 case, which was heard in Germany’s federal constitutional court. The case concerned Germany’s Climate and Transformation Fund, issued in August 2023. The fund, dedicated toward the transformation of Germany’s economy to climate neutrality, was highly controversial. Why? Of the €212 billion in the fund, €60 billion had been taken from unused COVID-19 relief funds. Gerstetter explained that the original pandemic relief funds had been a part of Germany’s “debt break” policy, which allows Germany to go over its debt limit when there is an emergency. According to members of the German parliament, Germany’s climate transformation does not warrant the same “emergency” status as the COVID-19 pandemic, and the €60 billion euros originally allocated to pandemic relief are being improperly used. The court ruled in favor of the German parliament, removing the €60 billion euros from the Climate and Transformation fund. 

The court’s decision left a hole in Germany’s Climate and Transformation Fund. Gerstetter walked through the German government’s process of re-allocating the remaining funds. According to her, the “core projects” are still underway, though a lot of reformations received cuts. Additionally, the German government is raising CO2 prices from €30 per ton to €45 per ton in order to generate more revenue for the fund. 

During the Q&A portion of the webinar, Gerstetter broke down some of the cultural obstacles involved in Germany’s climate response. Responding to Prof. von Mering’s question about the lack of progress in the transportation sector, she discussed Germany’s deep-seeded relationship with the automobile industry. As she put it, “Germany is a very car-minded culture where cars are associated with freedom.” Instead of a climate emergency program, she explored the potential impact that introducing speed limits could have on Germany’s emissions. She emphasized that because Germany's automobile industry is so ingrained in its culture, much more than legislation has to change for meaningful progress to happen. 

Many of Germany’s struggles are emulated across the globe as countries move to implement measures against climate change. Gerstetter spotlighted German farmers protesting against subsidies for agricultural diesel, a parallel to the recent protests against fuel prices in Paris. Cases like these serve as a reminder of the many facets of responding to climate change, a complex dance between legislators and citizens around the world.