Kids are taking governments to court over climate. And they are starting to win.
The 25-year-old climate activist had taken the German government to court last year and won.
On April 29, the country’s Supreme Court announced that some provisions of the 2019 climate change act were unconstitutional and “incompatible with fundamental rights,” because they lacked a detailed plan for reducing emissions and placed the burden for future climate action on young people.
The court ordered the government to come up with new provisions that “specify in greater detail how the reduction targets for greenhouse gas emissions” by the end of next year. The decision made headlines across the world.
“It was hard to digest, because it was so, so unexpected,” Neubauer told CNN, stressing that while it was her name on the case — Neubauer et al. versus Germany — she was just one of many people involved.
“This case changes everything,” she said. “It’s not nice to have climate action, it’s our fundamental right that the government protects us from the climate crisis.”
Peter Altmaier, the German minister for energy and the economy called the court’s finding “significant” and a “historic decision for climate and the rights of young people.”
Another similar case involving six young people from Portugal was fast-tracked at the European Court of Human Rights last October.
Mark Clarke, a partner at the international law firm White & Case, says that not only are there more climate cases being brought forward, there’s also a shift in the way they are being framed. “The most significant trend is the pivot away from claims for damages as a result of the physical impacts of climate change, towards rights-based claims,” he said.
The cases are most often centered around the idea that future generations have a right to live in a world that is not completely decimated by the climate crisis.
Neubauer and her co-claimants argued that the current German government’s failure to have a concrete plan to reduce emissions beyond 2030 would make their lives more difficult because they’d be forced to confront the catastrophic impact of climate change in the future.
The 2019 law called for a 55% reduction in greenhouse gases by 2030 from 1990 levels.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has said that warming of more than 2 degrees would have devastating consequences, including sea level rise, frequent heatwaves, extreme weather and droughts.
“The [German Constitutional] court was not so much talking about the impacts of climate change on young people, but the impact of mitigation measures,” said Gerry Liston, the head of climate litigation at Global Legal Action Network, or GLAN.
“If action is delayed, it will require vastly greater emissions reductions in the future and that would impose a massive burden on those alive then,” he said.
Joana Setzer, a fellow at the London School…