Climate Justice in Germany

Climate Justice in Germany


  • Exposure of Coastal Regions to Rising Sea Levels
  • Floods Affecting At-Risk Populations in Western Germany
  • The Need to Pay Better Attention to the Climate Views of Youth



Climate change is one of the greatest ethical and political challenges of our time. The impacts of a dramatically warming climate threaten the livelihood of millions. Such impacts are leading to more poverty, greater marginalization of people, and consequently more conflicts over vital resources and the rise of nationalist tendencies in our societies. Climate justice describes the importance of including ethical, social, and generational factors when analyzing countries activities and measures against climate change. CO2 might heat up the planet equally. Climate change hits unequally. It can be seen as a deep dive into the countries that hold major responsibilities, causing unequal suffering.

The core of the meaning of climate justice is often overlooked. CO2 stays in the atmosphere for several centuries (between 300-1000 to be specific). Thus, when using the term climate justice properly, one needs to consider the GHG levels a country is responsible for since the beginning of the industrialization. A recent study in The Lancet highlights each country’s responsibility for climate change since the 90’s. The study shows that especially rich industrial countries excessed CO2 emissions up to an extent, that they together are responsible for 92% of CO2 today. While the European Union separately accounts for 29%, the G8 (USA, Russia, Japan, Canada and EU-28) for 85%. Asia, Africa, and Middle East are responsible for 8%.

Exposure of Coastal Regions to Rising Sea Levels

Germany’s north and east coasts’ island chains are already confronted with a rapid rise in sea levels. Especially the northern islands will be facing extreme storm surges and increased occurrence of giant waves in the years to come. North Frisian Islands like Sylt, which is home to around 17.5 thousand people, UNESCO world heritage tidelands and kilometers of long sand beaches, is already facing enormous costs in yearly restoring procedures of dikes and constant backfilling of sand.

Local scientists discovered that no ocean has changed as much as the North Sea itself. According to their studies, the North Sea is heating up twice as fast as the global oceans, with a rising sea level of up to 1.2 meters by the end of the century. Scientists expect Sylt to disintegrate into several parts and vanish by the end of this century.

Looking to Germany’s east coast island area, storm surges and coastline destruction is usually lower than in the north. Though the Baltic Sea coast is much flatter, and the protection systems are less well developed. Nevertheless, preventive coast erosion and flooding measures and expensive coastal protection initiatives are taken every year in the East as well as in the North. Between 1972 and 2020, around 60 million square meters of sand worth around 235 million euros were washed up on the island of Sylt. These costs could rise immeasurably throughout Germany’s north and east island chains and coastlines.

The outlook in sustaining island like Sylt in the future is critical. The costs for coastal protection measures will likely increase immensely and might not be able to be supported by the federal government any longer. The lacking conviction for change of the island inhabitants and a missing roadmap on the part of local politics is further weakening the situation.

Germany’s government must respond with redistributing costs (at the state and federal levels), allowing for preventive aid packages, with an adjustment on a yearly basis. Policy recommendations include the creation of polder dikes on the mainland, giving the sea more space in a controlled manner. Significantly more sand than before should be pre-washed, and then allowed to spread gradually into the entire mudflat area with the currant, to raise the seabed. Also, education initiatives should be used to communicate and activate clear and drastic long-term actions and opportunity costs forecasts for island inhabitants (e.g., switching to clean energy, changing consumer behavior etc.). An insular/island climate commission could be created, chaired by a sustainability manager, to forward proposals to decision-makers in politics and administration on a quarterly basis.

Floods in Western Germany

Western Germany is internationally known for its scenic rivers, valleys and its rich lands, making it home to strong agriculture and wine. Especially the wines of Rhineland-Palatinate are considered as a seal of quality internationally.

The devastating floods of summer 2021 demonstrate the current climate shift that the region is facing. Continuous rain seasons have started to shift to heavy rain seasons, increasing the likelihood of floods like the ones which hit multiple towns in the Rhineland Palatinate (Pfalz) and North-Rhine Westphalia (NRW).  Thousands of people in these regions have been left without access to drinking water, electricity, and gas. Also, the flooding caused an erosion catastrophe as soil layers were washed away, vine crops and storage buildings destroyed. Hundreds of people lost their homes and business, and the probability is low for repayment of most of the economic damage that occurred.

Most of the people in this region do not obtain insurance for such extreme weather occasions. The federal states of NRW and Pfalz supported the affected regions with regional financial emergency packages. Germany’s national cabinet provided funds for long term reconstruction measures up to 30 billion euros will now be made available through the national solidarity fund “Reconstruction Aid 2021”. As the likelihood of those flooding events in the future is declared high, wide-ranging, long-term protection- and forecasting measures need to be implemented. Such preventive, long-term solutions could be improved through early warning systems, especially for the small river basins. Also, stronger collaboration between local, regional, and national government and institutions is needed (e.g., think tanks and science institutes for crisis management and meteorologists).

The Need to Pay Better Attention to the Climate Views of Youth

Today’s youth are expected to live with the results of climate change due to actions once taken by older generations. The youth of today are not feeling adequately represented and taken seriously by political leaders. Additionally, there is almost no room for a political contribution by youth in shaping political decision-making for the future. When Germany’s Fridays for Future group mobilized tens of thousands of young people advocating for climate protection in Germany, politicians reacted with skepticism, suggesting climate protection policy should be left to professionals.

Proving that a complaint, filed by nine young people, can have a historical effect, Germany’s Federal Constitutional Court ruling declared the Federal Climate Change Protection Act incompatible with the fundamental rights of young people to a human future. The court expressly required the German parliament to be more specific on how to achieve climate protection targets in the period from 2031 onwards and stipulated a deadline of 31 December 2022 for this purpose. Still, there is a strong need for more cooperative treatment and conversation between politicians and future generations.

Learn More

Fridays for Future Germany:

Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizen, Women and Youth:

German Federal Youth Council:

Phone: +49 (0) 30/40040-400


Anja Lochner (Ev. luth. Kirchengemeinde Westerland)

Lothar Koch (Bündnis 90 /Die Grünen OV Insel Sylt)

Lena Theissig and Annika Abraham (Fridays for Future Sylt) für das Aktionsbündnis Klimaschutz Sylt

Lothar Koch (

Maria Andresen (


Dr. Catharina Bayerlein
Office for Environment and Construction / Landscape Zweckverband Sylt
Phone: +49 4651 851 450


Federal Office for Civil Protection and Disaster Assistance

Phone: 0228 99 550-3670



Learn More Sources

(Shutterstock/D Busquets)


This Post was submitted by Climate Scorecard Germany Country Manager Cimberley Groß



Climate Scorecard depends on support from people like you.

We are a team of researchers providing information on efforts to reduce global emissions. We help make you better informed and able to advocate for improved climate change efforts. Donations of any amount are welcome.