Press release: 16 October 2019

New EU pollution data should “embarrass German leaders into action”

Germany’s major ongoing pollution issue has been highlighted by new official data published today by the European Environment Agency (EEA).

The number of years of life lost related to high concentrations of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) in Germany is 50% above the EU average. NO2 pollution in urban areas is principally caused by transport and, in particular, diesel vehicles.

Meanwhile, Germany has the highest number of premature deaths in the EU related to PM2.5 pollution – fine particles that embed in the lungs, enter the bloodstream and cause several respiratory and cardiovascular diseases.

Environmental organisation Deutsche Umwelthilfe (DUH) with support from ClientEarth has taken legal action in nearly 40 locations in Germany over illegally dirty air. Yet most local and federal authorities are refusing to take proactive steps to bring pollution down.

ClientEarth clean air lawyer Ugo Taddei said: “German leaders at all levels are trying to fight the inevitable. We’ve seen all tactics in play, from lobbying the EU to loosen pollution limits, to appealing court rulings made to protect people.

“This is disgraceful. The EU’s figures prove once again the havoc air pollution is wreaking on people’s health and should embarrass Germany’s leaders into action. We need to see proactive steps taken to comply with NO2 limits and new targets for particulate matter based on the best scientific data. Action is well overdue.”

DUH CEO Jürgen Resch said: “Local and federal authorities are digging in their heels when it comes to introducing localised diesel restrictions – but they are also refusing to comprehensively deal with the polluting vehicles themselves. We need to see hardware retrofits, funded by industry, for all illegally polluting vehicles – if not, either German people will keep breathing dirty air, or the problem will increasingly be exported to Central and Eastern Europe.”

The court actions have resulted in a market-changing court ruling from the country’s highest court confirming that diesel bans are both legal and necessary where pollution is dangerously high. Currently, Bavaria’s Environment Minister is also facing a possible jail term over continued non-compliance with court rulings on air quality in Munich.

The European Commission has already launched court action against Germany for its ongoing poor performance on air quality.

While air pollution is a known health issue, attention is increasingly being given to the close links between air pollution and climate change.

Taddei added: “Air pollution is also a climate issue and addressing its sources – from transport to coal and agriculture – will go some way to reduce greenhouse gas emission too. From all perspectives, EU countries could and must be doing much better to cut dangerous pollution – for people and the planet.”


Notes to editors:

Read Air quality in Europe – 2019 report from the EEA.

The European Environment Agency estimates that, on average, NO2 concentrations in Europe in 2016 were linked to an average of 100 Years of Life Lost (YLL) per 100,000 inhabitants; Germany counts 144 YLL per 100,000 related to NO2.

As regards PM2.5, the report estimates that there were 374,000 premature deaths attributable to PM2.5 across the EU, including 59,600 early deaths in Germany – the highest number in the EU.

The legal limit (in the EU Ambient Air Quality Directive) for the annual average concentration of NO2 is 40µg/m³. With an average of 78µg/m³ in 2017, Munich was in the top five most polluted cities in the EU.

PM2.5 limits are currently set at 25µg/m³ while the WHO air quality guidelines recommend an annual legal limit of 10 µg/m³.

Between Deutsche Umwelthilfe and ClientEarth, legal action is being taken in the following 13 German cities: Aachen, Bonn, Cologne, Essen, Frankfurt, Munich, Gelsenkirchen, Offenbach, Bochum, Dortmund, Duren, Paderborn and Reutlingen. Deutsche Umwelthilfe is running legal actions in 26 additional cities.

The next air quality court hearing in Germany is coming up in December this year, concerning Frankfurt. A formal legal opinion on the Munich case will be issued in November.

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.