Greenpeace Germany sues Volkswagen for ‘fuelling climate crisis’

Lawsuit could slash car giant’s CO2 emissions by two gigatonnes over the next two decades if successful, NGO says.

Volkswagen is the largest car manufacturer in Europe [File: Shannon Stapleton/Reuters]

A young German climate activist and the heads of Greenpeace Germany have sued Volkswagen (VW) in a German court for “fuelling the climate crisis”, accusing the carmaker of failing to do its part to combat global warming.

The claimants – Clara Mayer and the NGO – gave the German carmaker eight weeks to consider their demands before filing the lawsuit on Tuesday at the regional Court of Braunschweig.

Among their calls were two goals for 2030 – ending the production of internal combustion engines and reducing carbon emissions by at least 65 percent from 2018 levels.

VW rejected the demands on October 28, Reuters reported.

Martin Kaiser, Greenpeace Germany’s executive director, said car manufacturers such as VW “need to take responsibility and act much faster to phase out the highly-polluting internal combustion engine, and decarbonise their activities with no further delay”.

“Negotiations at COP26 in Glasgow indicate that the 1.5-degree target is at stake and can only be met with a bold change of course in politics and business,” Kaiser said in a statement, citing the ongoing UN climate change summit which aims to limit the rise in average global temperature to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) compared with pre-industrial levels.

“But while people suffer from floods and droughts triggered by the climate crisis, CO2 emissions from transport continue to rise,” he said.

If the lawsuit is successful, two gigatonnes less CO2 will be emitted by 2040 compared with VW’s current plans, Greenpeace Germany said.

That equates to more than twice the annual global aviation emissions, according to the NGO.

VW told Reuters that it “stands for climate protection and decarbonising the transport sector, but it cannot tackle this challenge alone”.

“The task of designing appropriate measures belongs to Parliament. Civil court disputes through lawsuits against singled-out companies are not the place or way to do justice to this task of great responsibility.”

A similar case was filed in September by the heads of German environmental organisation Deutsche Umwelthilfe against BMW and Daimler, when both companies also rejected demands to end production of fossil fuel-based cars by 2030 and limit CO2 emissions before then.

Germany’s district court must weigh whether that case should be taken forward, and any possible ruling could be years away yet.

The lawsuits draw on two prior climate-related legal battles. In May 2020, a German ruling said the country was failing to protect future generations from the consequences of climate change.

In the same month, a Dutch ruling ordered oil firm Shell to reduce its emissions, the first time a private company was held responsible for its impact on the climate.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies

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