The families, who are backed by environmental group Greenpeace, argue that their farms are already suffering from the effects of man-made global warming and Germany, one of the world's biggest historical emitters of greenhouse gases, is partly responsible.
Their lawyer, Rhoda Verheyen, said her clients want judges to decide whether the government's self-set emissions reduction targets for 2020 constitute a binding pledge. "The German government set itself a target in 2007, and even before, to lower Germany's emissions by 40% compared with 1990," Verheyen told The Associated Press.
"First this was a political promise, which then became a plan," she said, noting that it was repeatedly cited in Cabinet decisions. "Ultimately they are suing to have a promise that we see as binding fulfilled."
Germany's environment ministry has acknowledged that it will miss its 2020 goal but that it's now concentrating on a more ambitious target of cutting emissions by 55% by 2030. "We are united by the same goal," the ministry said in a statement.
Anike Peters, a climate expert with Greenpeace, said the new target means the original 2020 goal will be delayed by five years, causing considerable harm to people in Germany and elsewhere in the world.
"Simply by failing to act on climate change, the German government is breaching fundamental rights of people in Germany," she said. "We won't accept that." Speaking ahead of the hearing at Berlin's administrative court, plaintiff Silke Backsen said recent hot summers and stronger storm seasons are putting a strain on the family's organic cattle farm on the North Sea island of Pellworm. Rising sea levels could make the low-lying island uninhabitable unless global warming is slowed significantly.
"We are in a crisis. It's simply a disaster," she said. Backsen said she's hopeful the court will confirm the emissions targets. "I believe that together we can turn the ship around, so that our children have a future, including in the area where we live," she said.
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