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A car exhaust is pictured on a street in Berlin, Germany on February 22, 2018. REUTERS / Fabrizio Bensch / File Photo

BERLIN, Sept.21 (Reuters) – German activists have filed a lawsuit against automakers BMW and Daimler for refusing to tighten carbon emissions targets, the first time that German citizens sue private companies for exacerbating the climate change. Read more

The trial of the heads of Deutsche Umwelthilfe (DUH), a non-governmental organization (NGO), is similar to the one lined up for Volkswagen (VOWG_p.DE) by the heads of the Germany division of Greenpeace together with the Fridays activist for Future Clara Mayer and an unidentified landowner. However, that group gave Volkswagen until October 29 to respond.

DUH has also challenged energy company Wintershall (WINT.UL) to curtail its emissions targets, but no lawsuits have yet been filed against the company.

Here’s what the cases mean and why they’re important.

WHERE DOES THIS COME FROM?

In May last year, Germany’s highest court ruled that the country’s climate law was not doing enough to protect future generations. He set carbon emissions budgets for key economic sectors, increased the percentage of emission reductions from 1990 levels by 2030 to 65% from 55%, and said Germany , as a country, must be carbon neutral by 2045. read more

While meeting these demands involves certain restrictions on the lifestyle of current generations, failure to comply with them would force future generations to make much more drastic sacrifices in order to both survive in a warmer world and prevent the problem from occurring. does not get worse, argued the court at the time. .

In the same month, environmental groups in the Netherlands won a lawsuit against the oil company Shell for not doing enough to mitigate its impact on the climate – the first private company to be ordered by a court to reduce its emissions. Read more

On the basis of these two judgments, the German activists plead their cause.

WHY IS IT IMPORTANT?

This matter is important on two levels.

First, because of the legal precedent this could set, which is that companies are directly responsible for the effect on people’s lives of the emissions their products create.

If the defendants win, citizens could embolden themselves to sue other companies – from airlines to retailers to energy companies – for not doing enough to mitigate their impact on the planet.

Second, because companies will be forced to prove in court that their emissions targets are as specific as they claim to be – testing their claims that they take climate change seriously.

WHY THESE COMPANIES?

Daimler (DAIGn.DE) and BMW (BMWG.DE) have set a number of climate-related targets.

Daimler aims to produce pure electric vehicles (EVs) by 2030 and provide an electric alternative to all models by 2025. BMW wants at least half of global sales to be electric vehicles by 2030 and reduce CO2 emissions per vehicle by 40% at the same time. Time range. Volkswagen has announced that it will stop producing cars that emit fossil fuels by 2035.

All three companies said their goals are in line with the Paris International Agreement to Combat Global Warming.

But defendants argue that corporate targets are not enough to adhere to German climate regulations and carbon emission budgets set by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

By extending carbon-emitting activities, companies are directly responsible for the constraints on individual rights that will face in the future if carbon budgets are not respected, the case argues.

These are by no means the only companies to which such an argument could apply – and if DUH wins, other lawsuits could follow.

WHAT DO THEY WANT?

DUH wants the two automakers to legally commit to ending the production of cars that emit fossil fuels by 2030 and to ensure that the CO2 emitted by their activities before those deadlines does not exceed their fair share.

What do they mean by their fair share? It’s a complex calculation – but in layman’s terms, the NGO has calculated a personal ‘carbon budget’ for each company, based on a figure established by the IPCC of how much carbon we can still emit in the world without warming the Earth beyond 1.7 degrees Celsius, and how much carbon companies emitted in 2019.

According to his calculations, companies’ current climate targets are not enough to keep them within their allotted budget – meaning that even if everyone sticks to their budgets, the activities of these companies would push emissions further. -beyond the limit.

WHAT DID THE COMPANIES SAY?

Daimler said Monday he saw no basis for the case. “We have long provided a clear statement on the path to climate neutrality: our goal is to be fully electric by the end of the decade – where market conditions permit,” he said in a statement.

BMW said its climate targets are already at the forefront of the industry and that its targets are in line with the ambition to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees.

Volkswagen said it would look into the case, but “does not view lawsuits against individual companies as an appropriate method to meet societal challenges.”

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?

It is now for the German district court to decide whether the case should be continued. If so, the companies will be asked to present evidence to defend against the charges, and a written debate between the two sides will ensue.

A decision could take years. But the longer it takes, the greater the risk for businesses to lose, as they have very little time left to respond to court demands by 2030.

($ 1 = 0.8540 euros)

Reporting by Victoria Waldersee Editing by Mark Potter

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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