Whatsapp chat rooms and Telegram channels across Germany lit up in the early hours of 29 April. Young people frantically exchanged messages in a tone that went from disbelief to surprise to euphoria, reports Bloomberg.
The country’s highest court had just ruled that the government’s 2019 climate law was incompatible with fundamental rights, a victory for the nine young activists that filed the lawsuit and for the global youth climate movement. Over the next few days, it also changed the course of Germany’s politics, economy and climate strategy for the next three decades.
“For us it has been rather shocking, we were surprised because we did not have so many expectations of winning,” said Nick Heubeck, a 22-year-old student and a spokesperson for the Fridays For Future movement in Germany, one of the organizations supporting the suit.
“Much of what has happened over the past few days would have been completely unthinkable before the ruling.”
A week later, the German government announced it would speed up its transition to net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2045 and cut emissions 65 percent by 2030. The goals will force industry to implement massive emissions cuts over the next decade and puts the country ahead of most other large economies in addressing climate change.
“We have shown it’s possible,” said Heubeck. “This sends a strong signal to all of the ongoing cases that Germany’s highest court understands it’s necessary to limit warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius.”
Activists are not only challenging governments and their climate plans, but increasingly private companies too, according to Catherine Higham, a policy analyst at the London School of Economics’ Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment.
“The vast majority of cases is still against governments and that’s where the most major successes have taken place,” Higham said. “It’s important to remember there’s a real connection between the public and private sectors - cases against governments also have the potential to have an impact on the business environment.”