Press release: 24 April 2023

All European children at high risk from air pollution, data reveals – parents urge action

The European Environment Agency released new figures today, illustrating the disastrous impact of air pollution on Europe’s children – with an estimated 1,200 child and adolescent deaths per year across its 32 member countries.

The data also show that in 2021, all EU Member States were tracking pollution over the World Health Organization’s recommended upper limits. Several Member States, including Italy, Germany, France and Poland, were still charting harmful NO2 pollution over the current legal limits.

Parents taking legal action on behalf of their children over dangerous levels of pollution across Europe have reacted to the data.

Chiara, a mother with an asthmatic son, who is suing the Italian authorities over air pollution, said: “As if we needed more proof, these numbers are a fresh reminder for all those who have the power to enforce air pollution standards that harm is being done now, and our children are on the front line. This report just adds to my determination to see this case through the courts, for my son, and for anyone else being affected by toxic air.”

Constanze, who filed a legal complaint in Germany, said: “I filed a lawsuit mainly on behalf of my two children. In view of the frightening data on how many children and young people actually die prematurely as a result of bad air quality, it’s even more urgent that the Federal Constitutional Court in Germany decides to clearly include the right to healthy air under the fundamental rights of German people.

“Children must be able to grow up healthy without getting sick from air pollution – whether they live in the city or rural areas. The German government has a duty to protect my children from health damage that they will suffer with for the rest of their lives.”

The data make especially clear that the impacts of air pollution for children are even more potent than for adults. Children breathe faster (and often through their mouths) and they take in more air per kilogram of body weight. Combined with their proximity to clouds of exhaust fumes, and their day-to-day activities, this means that they are at increased risk from toxic air.

Yet children cannot lobby for themselves, and have no voice in policymaking.

ClientEarth air pollution lawyer Emma Bud said: “The burden air pollution places on people across Europe, and children especially, is unacceptable. The status quo should not be that our children live and play in air we know is harming them – and inflicting damage that we know will stay with them for life.

“Cases are being heard in the courts but the duty on governments is already there. They need to act with the science available and take action to stamp out air pollution deaths.”


Notes to editors:

You can access the report here: Air pollution levels across Europe still not safe, especially for children (

ClientEarth is supporting claimants, including parents, to take air pollution cases in:

The cases centre around human rights arguments, aiming to establish a clear and court-confirmed right to healthy air.

Read the full story and watch the claimants’ videos here.

About ClientEarth

ClientEarth is a non-profit organisation that uses the law to create systemic change that protects the Earth for – and with – its inhabitants. We are tackling climate change, protecting nature and stopping pollution, with partners and citizens around the globe. We hold industry and governments to account, and defend everyone’s right to a healthy world. From our offices in Europe, Asia and the USA we shape, implement and enforce the law, to build a future for our planet in which people and nature can thrive together.