German govt in the dock over farmers' climate case

Berlin (AFP) –


A Berlin court hears on Thursday a case brought by three farmers against Chancellor Angela Merkel's government over its failure to meet climate protection targets, the first such legal challenge in Germany.

Citing cattle stressed by heatwaves and huge crop losses due to extreme weather swings from lasting droughts to torrential rains, a fruit-grower and two livestock farmers backed by environmental group Greenpeace are seeking to force the government into action.

"We are suing to get the government to keep to its targets and implement its measures," co-plaintiff Franziska Blohm, whose family manages an organic fruit farm near Hamburg, told AFP.

The aim of the exercise is not to obtain "damages or anything similar," she stressed.

"We feel that our livelihoods are threatened. We are afraid that if we don't do something, the fruit farm won't survive. The government must now show the way," she said.

Merkel's government last year admitted it would fall short of its climate target of slashing greenhouse gas emissions in Germany by 40 percent by 2020 compared to 1990 levels.

Rather, it expected to achieve only 32 percent in reductions compared to 1990.

Berlin has since rolled out a new environmental protection package, with Merkel pledging that Germany should be climate neutral by 2050.

But the plan worth at least 100 billion euros ($111 billion) by 2030 has been immediately slammed as unambitious by scientists and environmentalists alike.

- 'Can't go on like this' -

At his dairy farm in Vetschau, Brandenburg, Heiner Luetke Schwienhorst said it was time to make the government take "political accountability".

Schwienhorst, who has run his farm for three decades, said last year's record drought, unseen in Germany since 1911, was "simply frightening".

Up to half of his livestock feed crop was lost, forcing him to buy 400 bales of hay.

Last year's dry spell stretched from late spring well into winter, even halting water traffic across the country, including on the Rhine, one of Europe's busiest commercial arteries.

With temperatures also pushing well past 35 degrees Celsius (95 degrees Fahrenheit) in the summer, farmers across Germany reported huge crop losses.

The Blohm family said half of its crops were lost because of the unusually hot summer last year.

It led to "burns on trees, on apples, on leaves," said Claus Blohm.

Meanwhile, on the North Sea island of Pellworm, the Backsen family are worried that extreme weather and rising sea levels would leave their home under water.

In the government's written application seen by AFP, Berlin has argued that setting environmental policies is part of its executive powers in which courts are not allowed to interfere.

But Greenpeace climate expert Anike Peters said that the "government has to take responsibility for its constant postponement of effective climate protection measures".

"Chancellor Angela Merkel's so-called climate policy is irresponsible because it threatens the livelihoods of people in Germany and worldwide."