Legal actions of environmental associations – a success for environment and nature

Study proves effectiveness of legal actions filed by environmental associations

Nearly half of all appeals by recognised environmental associations are successful, which places their "success rate" far above the average of successful legal proceedings under administrative law in Germany. It has proven to be an effective instrument to ensure compliance with environmental regulations during the planning and authorisation process of industrial and infrastructure projects.

Targeted, highly specialised actions

The Federal Environment Agency (UBA) commissioned the Öko-Institut e.V. and the Society for Institutional Analysis (sofia, University of Applied Sciences Darmstadt) to analyse the effectiveness of lawsuits by environmental associations. They concluded that 48 per cent of all the procedures initiated by recognised environmental associations that were taken to administrative courts in 2006-2012 were either fully or partly successful. The main reason is that associations only initiate legal proceedings in a few very promising cases. On average there are about 12 environmental appeals per year, compared to the more than 700 environmental impact assessments conducted for infrastructure projects. The study thereby refutes the concerns voiced that an introduction of rights of legal action instituted by associations would unleash a flood of proceedings. The above average rate of success of these proceedings is more an indication of the competence and responsibility of environmental associations in the exercise of their right to pursue legal action.

Environmental protection improvements made ahead of legal action

A survey taken among representatives of associations and players in licensing authorities and project / carriers revealed that the mere possibility of legal action already exerts a positive effect on the consideration of the requirements of environmental protection. Licensing authorities and project carrierstake the advisory opinions of associations into consideration as early as the planning and approval phases. This improves the quality of the authorisation procedure and results in more legal certainty for the developer/ project carrier. Finally, cooperation at an early stage helps to avoid associational lawsuits and relieves the courts.

A look to our neighbours

The study also takes a look at regulations applicable to our proceedings in three neighbouring countries (Poland, the Netherlands and Austria). The research team takes the experience gained in these countries to make proposals for improvements to the legal and institutional framework of associational lawsuits in Germany.

Development in Europe and Germany

The results of the study can also inject momentum into the further development of environmental appeals. In particular this might include making necessary adjustments to the Environmental Appeals Act (Umwelt–Rechtsbehelfsgesetz, UmwRG) in line with the case law of the European Court of Justice and German courts. Furthermore, changes to the regulations on access to justice have been announced at European level. The European Commission is currently drafting a new proposal for a complementary directive on access to justice in environmental matters.

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 Environmental Appeals Act  legal action taken by an association  environmental association