German court rejects farmers' climate change challenge

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BERLIN (Reuters) - A German court rejected on Thursday a lawsuit brought by a group of farmers trying to compel the government to take swifter action on climate change.

At a hearing in Berlin on Thursday, the farmers, backed by the Greenpeace environmental pressure group, said the government was violating their rights by cutting greenhouse gas emissions at a slower rate than promised.

But the court rejected their plea. It said the federal cabinet’s political commitments were not binding in the sense that the farmers claimed, and that the government also had leeway in deciding how to meet its obligation to protect the farmers’ property and livelihoods from climate change.

“The plaintiffs lacked a legal basis for their complaint,” the court said in a statement. The plaintiffs were given leave to appeal.

One of the plaintiffs, the Backsen family, fears that rising sea levels could sweep away the farm ploughed by their forebears for 300 years could be swept away, along with the North Sea island of Pellworm on which it lies.

The lawsuit mirrored a successful case in the Netherlands where a group of about 900 citizens last year forced the Dutch government to accelerate its plans to cut emissions of the greenhouse gases that drive climate change.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government initially promised to cut emissions of carbon dioxide by 40% compared to 1990 levels by next year. That goal was abandoned in 2018. But Greenpeace, citing a report by the government-backed Fraunhofer institute, says the 2020 goal can still be reached.

A series of unseasonably hot summers has propelled climate change to the top of the political agenda in Germany, with thousands of people inspired by teenage Swedish activist Greta Thunberg taking to the streets to demand swifter action.

Climate change activists were disappointed by a package Berlin agreed last month aimed at meeting emissions targets by 2030, saying the magnitude of the crisis meant the government should have gone further.

Reporting by Reuters TV, Thomas Escritt, additional reporting by Bart Meijer in Amsterdam; Editing by Janet Lawrence and Timothy Heritage