Greenpeace sues VW in Germany over CO2 emissions

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A German court on Tuesday began hearing a case against Volkswagen brought by climate group Greenpeace to try to compel the giant group to stop selling petrol and diesel cars from 2030.

The plaintiffs, the two heads of Greenpeace Germany and climate activist Clara Meyer, also want to force the world's second-largest carmaker to reduce emissions by 65 percent by 2030 as compared to 2018.

Greenpeace's case is based on a landmark verdict by Germany's constitutional court in April, 2021, which found government plans to curb CO2 emissions insufficient to meet Paris climate agreement targets and placed an unfair burden on future generations.

In a major win for activists, former chancellor Angela Merkel's government then brought forward its date for carbon neutrality by five years to 2045, and raised its 2030 target for greenhouse gas reductions.

The environmental group contends that the same obligation extends to private companies.

'Right track'

In preliminary remarks, judges at the court in Braunschweig found the case admissible but did not necessarily support the plaintiffs' arguments.

"The chamber expressed its preliminary view of the law and clarified that the applications are admissible and that the complaint is admissible in its entirety," said a spokesman for the court.

"Separate from this however is the question of substantive merits -- that is, the question of whether the complaint will be successful in the end. The preliminary legal assessment of the court as presented today by the chamber is that this might not be the case," he added.

A final ruling will be given on January 31.

The initial opinion was "not a defeat", said Roda Verheyen, the lawyer representing the three plaintiffs.

"We're on the right track and we won't let this rest, no matter how it turns out," Verheyen said, promising to appeal if necessary.

"The court essentially confirmed our assessment that legislators have responsibility for the implementation of climate protection," Volkswagen lawyer Wolf Spieth said.

The auto group said it stood by its "responsibility to reduce CO2 emissions in all of its areas of activity as quickly as commercially possible".

Germany's biggest carmakers have been embroiled in several cases in the last years brought by climate activists.

Greenpeace is also backing a court case being heard in Detmold against Volkswagen brought by a farmer who claims the pollution caused by the automotive giant is infringing on his rights.

Another climate group, Deutsche Umwelthilfe, has brought similar cases against fellow German car giants Mercedes-Benz (formerly Daimler) and BMW, as well as the energy company Wintershall Dea.

In May 2021, a court in the Netherlands ordered oil giant Shell to slash carbon emissions by 2030, the first time a company had been made to align its policy with the 2015 Paris climate accords. Shell has appealed the ruling.

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