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German Court Dismisses Climate Action Against Volkswagen AG

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Automotive Bulletin

On February 14, 2023, the Braunschweig Regional Court in Germany dismissed a climate-related action brought against Volkswagen AG (“Volkswagen”).

The claim was started in 2021 by two individuals associated with Greenpeace and one individual associated with the “Fridays for Future” student climate movement. Among other things, the claim asked that Volkswagen be ordered to phase out internal combustion engines by 2030. An English translation of the claim states that the plaintiffs were seeking to prevent the violation of their “essential legal interests” by “excessive CO2 emissions” alleged to be attributable to Volkswagen.

Although this was a civil action, the plaintiffs relied heavily on a 2021 decision of the German Federal Constitutional Court, which struck down certain portions of Germany’s Federal Climate Change Act — known as KSG — as “incompatible with fundamental rights".

In its statement dismissing the claim against Volkswagen, the Braunschweig Regional Court observed that Germany had fulfilled its obligations to German citizens by enacting an updated KSG in 2021. Of particular note, the court held that the obligations of private business enterprises did not extend beyond those of the State in protecting fundamental rights. It further wrote that it was decisive that Volkswagen had complied with applicable regulations.

Despite the dismissal of this claim, Greenpeace Germany’s Executive Director, Roland Hipp, also a plaintiff in the action, released a statement in which he noted that the court’s decision was not the last word in Greenpeace’s climate lawsuits against Volkswagen. It is being reported based on Mr. Hipp’s statement that an appeal of the Braunschweig Regional Court’s decision is planned.

The dismissal of this case against Volkswagen is important for the automotive sector and others, as it represents a rejection by a court of efforts by climate activists to seek redress against private entities. Indeed, this case is noteworthy in light of environmental organization ClientEarth’s recent announcement that it was going to court against Shell’s Board of Directors personally for “failing to move away from fossil fuels fast enough.” 

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