Greenpeace Germany and environmental NGO Deutsche Umwelthilfe (DUH) have coordinated statements saying they will take legal action against Volkswagen, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and gas and oil firm Wintershall Dea, if the companies fail to step up their policies to tackle climate change.

The cases would be modelled on one Greenpeace brought against Royal Dutch Shell in the Netherlands last year. In it, Greenpeace lawyers argued the Royal Dutch Shell’s lack of climate action constituted a failure in its duty of care to citizens, which led to a court ruling in May 2021 mandating the company to reduce its CO2 output by 45% from 2019 levels by 2030.

In the new initiative Greenpeace and DUH are demanding that the car makers stop producing combustion engine cars by 2030 – earlier than the 2035 ban proposed by the EU in July – and that Wintershall Dea refrains from exploring any new oil and gas fields from 2026.

These deadlines, say Greenpeace and DUH, are necessary to meet the goals of the Paris climate accords and German climate law.

They have set a near deadline for the companies to respond to their demands. Should they fail to do so, the NGOs will file lawsuits in German courts, they said.

According to the NGOs, the German automotive sector’s sales of diesel and petrol engines around the world amount to a greater CO2 footprint than the whole of Germany’s in 2019.

“Anyone who delays climate protection harms others and is thus acting illegally,” says Roda Rehyen, one of Greenpeace’s lawyers. “Civil law can and must prevent corporations from destroying our livelihoods and depriving our children and grandchildren of the right to a secure future.”