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Alena Hochstadt, et al. v. State of Hesse

Jurisdiction: Federal Constitutional Court

Principle law(s): Federal Climate Protection Act and to change further regulations ("Bundesklimaschutzgesetz” or “KSG")

Side A: Alena Hochstadt, Dennis Georg, and Lilly Claudi (Individual)

Side B: Hesse (Government)

Core objectives: The lack of a climate protection law in the State of Hesse.

On September 09, 2021, the youth plaintiffs Alena Hochstadt, Dennis Georg, and Lilly Claudi brought a claim against the state of Hesse, arguing that the state’s failure to adopt a climate law violated plaintiffs’ constitutional rights. The plaintiffs rely on the Paris Agreement and the German Constitution to demand that the state legislature sets a pathway to reducing greenhouse gas emissions to comply with the remaining CO2 budget to achieve carbon neutrality (calculated and distributed over the remaining period until the 1.5oC target is achieved), especially considering the Federal Climate Protection Act, and the goal of achieving climate neutrality by 2045. The temperature targets are informed by the Paris Agreement. 

In June 2021, the Hessian Climate Change Act was introduced to the state parliament. The bill is currently under debate. However, the plaintiffs argue that, in its current draft form, it does not fulfil the constitutional obligations for climate protection, as it does not specify a reliable reduction pathway for complying with the remaining CO2 budget on account of the lack of any annual target-setting. The plaintiffs also argue that the 2012 Hessian Energy Future Act is insufficient as it only sets a nonbinding target for the expansion of renewable energy. The plaintiffs argue that the lack of more stringent targets at the state level violates their fundamental constitutional rights. 

Consistent with the German TKTK court’s decision in (Neubauer v. Germany), the German national government has adjusted its climate goals. Plaintiffs argue that codification is also required at the state level, as states bear the co-responsibility for protecting lives and civil liberties, including safeguarding the natural foundations of life for future generations, within their own sphere of competence. The lack of legislation at the state level is unconstitutional given that the state has failed to protect citizens against climate change. The plaintiffs argue they have a fundamental right to defend themselves against the considerable future restrictions of freedom which – in view of rapidly progressing climate change – are to be seen as inevitable and already inherent in the omitted action of the legislature of the State of Hesse.

On January 18, 2022, the First Senate of the Federal Constitutional Court did not admit the eleven complaints for adjudication, on the basis of a lack of adequate prospects. Widely in alignment with its decision in Neubauer v. Germany, the Court acknowledged that greenhouse gas reduction burdens cannot be unilaterally offloaded onto the future. However, in the cases at hand, complainants’ fundamental rights were not violated pre-emptively, because the state legislatures are not subject to a CO2 emissions budget, which, according to the Court in Neubauer v. Germany, is a prerequisite for such an effect. Rather, it is the federal German legislature that is bound by the CO2 budget, but has a prerogative with respect to its implementation. As regards the federal states, the Court clarified that they too are responsible for climate protection, in particular by virtue of Article 20a of the Basic Law. 
Case documents

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