On August 31, 2021, an amendment to the German Federal Climate Change Act (Bundes-Klimaschutzgesetz, KSG) entered into force. The amendment codifies the goal for the country to become climate neutral by 2045 as a legally binding obligation. The goal after 2050 is to achieve negative emissions. (KSG § 3, para. 2.) As intermediate goals to reach climate neutrality, Germany set a 2030 greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction target of 65% by 2030 compared to 1990 levels and a 2040 GHG emissions reduction target of 88%. (§ 3, para. 1.) If international or European Union (EU) climate goals require more ambitious climate change objectives, the federal government is authorized to amend the intermediary reduction targets. Reduction targets may only be tightened but not lowered. (§ 3, para. 4.) Annexes 2 and 3 detail the annual emission amounts for the years 2020–2030 and 2031–2040, respectively. The federal government must adopt regulations specifying the annual amounts allowed for each sector for the years 2031–2045. (§ 4, paras. 1, 6.)
The amendment requires that the goals of the Climate Change Act be continuously monitored, obligating the Expert Committee on Climate Questions to report to the German federal government and the German parliament, in 2022 and every two years thereafter, on GHG emissions, trends regarding annual emissions, and the effectiveness of the Federal Climate Change Act’s measures. (§ 12, para. 4.)
The federal government has made an additional 8 million euros (about US$9.4 million) available to achieve the amended goals of the Federal Climate Change Act, which will be invested in “coal-free industrial activities, green hydrogen and green steel, as well as in energy-focused building refurbishments and climate-friendly traffic.”
European Union Climate Law
In addition, the European Climate Law, an EU regulation, is directly applicable in Germany and all other EU member states. (Consolidated Version of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) art. 288, para. 2.) The European Climate Law codifies the binding objective of climate neutrality by 2050 and requires member states to take the necessary measures to achieve this goal. The implementation of the necessary measures is left to the member states. More ambitious climate neutrality goals, such as the German 2045 goal, are consistent with the goal of the European Climate Law.
Background to the German AmendmentOn March 24, 2021, the German Federal Constitutional Court (Bundesverfassungsgericht, BVerfG) held in a constitutional complaint that the “provisions of the Federal Climate Change Act … governing national climate targets and the annual emission amounts allowed until 2030 are incompatible with fundamental rights insofar as they lack sufficient specifications for further emission reductions from 2031 onwards.” It stated that “[t]he state’s duty of protection arising from Art. 2(2) first sentence of the Basic Law also encompasses the duty to protect life and health against the risks posed by climate change. It can furthermore give rise to an objective duty to protect future generations.” It concluded that the current statutory provisions were insufficient to ensure the climate neutrality goal in time. It therefore instructed the legislature to enact provisions by December 31, 2022, that specify in detail how the reduction targets for GHG emissions are to be adjusted for periods after 2030. The amendment of the Federal Climate Change Act implements these requirements.