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ClientEarth Communications

26th May 2020

Air pollution

We're tackling unseen air pollution in Germany

For ten years, emissions of ammonia in Germany have soared far above legal limits. It was the largest emitter in Europe in 2017. The German Federal government has a legal obligation to protect people in Germany and across the EU from dangerous air pollution but it’s not doing enough.

Together with Deutsche Umwelthilfe (DUH) we’ve launched a legal challenge over its continued failures to clean up the country’s toxic air.

What is ammonia pollution?

Air pollution is not caused by vehicles alone. There is also a level of background pollution that can be attributed in part to agriculture and industry.

Ugo Taddei, who heads up our clean air team, said: “People are now familiar with urban pollution and the importance of tackling emissions from vehicles, but if we want air quality in cities to be safe for our health, we also need to address the unseen emissions from agriculture and industry. What many people won’t know is just how far these substances can travel and the harm they can do.”

Ammonia emissions can spread across continents. A hazy smog often appears in European skies in spring and summer, when fields are fertilised. As it travels, ammonia reacts to create yet more PM2.5, tiny particles that can enter the bloodstream through the lungs. These particles pose a major threat to health, affecting nearly every organ in the human body.

German government failures

"As we have proved, we will not shy away from challenging poor action on air quality in court.”

 The National Emission Ceilings or ‘NEC’ Directive is one of the key pieces of air pollution law in the EU. It governs pollution from all sectors, including industry and agriculture, regulating national emissions of ammonia and other key pollutants.

Yet Germany has admitted that, without major changes to its pollution policies, it will likely miss its 2030 legal targets set out by the NEC directive.

ClientEarth lawyer Ugo Taddei said: “This essential law is set to halve the health impacts of air pollution in the EU by 2030, cutting premature deaths related to dirty air by over 50% – if governments work to enforce it. Yet, once again, Germany’s response to this law is a pale reflection of the legal requirements.

“It’s absolutely vital governments take their responsibilities seriously. A box-ticking exercise does not constitute ambitious national action to protect our lungs and, as we have proved, we will not shy away from challenging poor action on air quality in court.”

How we’re taking action

Germany has a bad track record on air pollution. At ClientEarth we’ve worked together with DUH to bring over 30 legal cases at city level in Germany, over illegal levels of urban nitrogen dioxide (NO2) pollution. We’ve had huge success that’s led to ground-breaking action being taken to protect people from NO2 and its health impacts in German cities.

Now we’re taking on the German government.

We’ve lodged a legal challenge against the German Federal Government for its failures at a national level. Its flawed national air pollution programmes lack hard deadlines and clear commitments. The government must take action now to protect people’s health across the country – and further afield.