DUH and Greenpeace want to sue auto companies

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Deutsche Umwelthilfe (DUH) and Greenpeace have announced details of the planned climate action against four major German corporations. As the two lawyers of the associations in Berlin announced, the first legal steps have already been taken against the three car groups BMW, Mercedes Benz AG, Volkswagen and against the oil and gas group Wintershall Dea.

With cease and desist letters, the two organizations want the three German car manufacturers to stop selling vehicles with internal combustion engines by 2030, among other things. According to the lawyers letter, the oil and natural gas company Wintershall Dea should no longer develop any new oil and gas fields by 2026 at the latest.

The primary goal is to oblige the corporations to change their business model in such a way that they meet the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement. “If the world hesitates for another ten years, then the 1.5-degree and probably also the two-degree target can no longer be achieved,” explained lawyer Roda Verheyen, referring to the continuing global warming, for which the environmental groups are promoting make the above-mentioned corporations largely jointly responsible. The German automotive industry has a “gigantic global footprint,” said the lawyer who represents Greenpeace in the proceedings against VW.

Lawyer colleague Remo Klingen is preparing the lawsuit against the remaining three corporations for Deutsche Umwelthilfe. The DUH and Greenpeace also refer to the ruling of the Federal Constitutional Court of March 2021. The judges in Karlsruhe had declared the previously applicable Climate Protection Act to be partially unconstitutional and, with reference to the endangered freedom rights of future generations, called for more ambitious climate protection. “Not only states, but also large companies are bound by this,” says attorney Verheyen.

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According to their own statements, the plaintiffs want to assert civil law claims for the protection of their personal freedom and property rights. If the corporations should not sign the cease and desist letters served, the lawsuits would be submitted to the competent courts, said the two lawyers. VW has until the end of October for this, the other companies should comment by September 20.

Mercedes-Benz AG, Volkswagen and BMW do not understand the announcement by the environmental organizations Greenpeace and Deutsche Umwelthilfe that they will soon file a lawsuit against them. “We are clearly committed to the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement and thus to the decarbonization of the automotive industry,” announced Mercedes-Benz AG. The company has initiated the “lane change to climate neutrality” and sees “no basis for an injunction”.

“If there is a lawsuit, we will defend ourselves against it with all legal means,” announced Mercedes-Benz. In their statement, BMW and Volkswagen emphasized that they now want to examine the letters received. Both groups also made it clear that the commitment to climate protection is an integral part of the company’s orientation. The approach of the environmental associations as well as “the announcement of a lawsuit against a single company” is considered “not an appropriate means of solving important social challenges”, wrote Volkswagen.

The Association of the Automotive Industry (VDA) was also critical of the initiative by the environmental associations. “A lawsuit against the company will not change the speed of the transformation,” said VDA President Hildegard Müller on Friday. Rather, what is needed is the “right framework”, such as the expansion of the charging infrastructure. It is the task of the legislature “to make the necessary regulations about the scope of the permitted emission quantities”, said Müller. “Climate policy should primarily be discussed and decided in parliament – and not in the courtroom.”

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