Press release: 2 August 2019

Judge overturns Aachen’s pollution plans in latest clean air victory

A judge in Münster has ruled that Aachen’s authorities’ air quality plans breach EU law and ordered them to adopt stricter measures.

Last year, in a case brought by Deutsche Umwelthilfe (DUH) and ClientEarth, a court called for Aachen to introduce a diesel ban by January 2019, but the authority appealed.

That appeal was heard this week – but the court decided Aachen’s plans in their current form did not go far enough.

Significantly, the court also invalidated an attempt by German ministers to lower the bar on air quality control. The German parliament had put in place new rules this year that circumvented the stricter EU limit of 40µg/m3, saying that restrictions on diesel vehicles should be considered only when nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels are above 50µg/m3.

But the judge in Münster dismissed this idea, confirming that this ‘proportionality threshold’ is contrary to EU law and that German authorities must comply with the EU limit – which is in place to protect people’s health.

ClientEarth clean air lawyer Ugo Taddei said: “This key ruling clears the fog that has surrounded the air quality debate in Germany over the last months. The court unequivocally held that EU limits exist to protect people’s health and that authorities must take urgent action to clean up air in German cities just the same as anywhere else in the EU. It is astonishing that city leaders are still trying to avoid action that will improve people’s lives.”

DUH CEO Jürgen Resch said: “This is a good day for clean air in Aachen and 13 other major cities in North Rhine Westphalia. We hope that regional authorities will heed this signal and deal with the situation swiftly. All public buses and municipal vehicles should be retrofitted. We also want diesel manufacturers to contribute to fixing those private vehicles affected and to cover the costs.

“We would invite the regional government to liaise with us about measures to be taken in the immediate term.”


Notes to editors:

Further German clean air hearings are imminent, concerning air quality in Cologne, Frankfurt and Munich. The last of these is set to be a major hearing in the Court of Justice of the European Union, over whether further failures by the regional minister could result in a prison sentence.

Read ClientEarth and DUH’s joint op-ed: Germany’s emissions fiasco – time to get priorities straight?

Read the EU coalition’s letter: EU air quality laws protect our health – Germany must respect them

About ClientEarth

ClientEarth is a charity that uses the power of the law to protect people and the planet. We are international lawyers finding practical solutions for the world’s biggest environmental challenges. We are fighting climate change, protecting oceans and wildlife, making forest governance stronger, greening energy, making business more responsible and pushing for government transparency. We believe the law is a tool for positive change. From our offices in London, Brussels, Warsaw, Berlin and Beijing, we work on laws throughout their lifetime, from the earliest stages to implementation. And when those laws are broken, we go to court to enforce them.