Court cases double German air pollution cuts – new analysis

Media release

8 October 2020

Air pollution falls twice as steeply in cities where air quality litigation has been taken, compared with those subject to no legal interventions, new analysis has shown.

Between 2018 and 2019 alone, nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels reduced by an average of 4.2µg/m³ in cities where air quality litigation has been undertaken. Meanwhile, in cities where no action was taken, that average reduction stands at just 2.1µg/m³.

The findings come from consumer affairs and environmental experts at Deutsche Umwelthilfe (DUH), which has taken litigation in 40 German cities over consistently dangerous levels of air pollution. Seventeen of these suits were brought in liaison with environmental law charity ClientEarth.

A total of 31 of those cases have now successfully concluded.

All cases have been taken on the basis of levels of NO2 consistently and dramatically higher than EU law allows since bloc-wide air quality law came in in 2010.

DUH head of Transport and Air Quality Dorothee Saar said: “People are finally breathing cleaner air – legal action works. We see potential for NO2 to meet legal limits in every German town by 2021.

“Politicians and the diesel industry have pushed against us at every stage, just for working towards a reality where people actually get to breathe clean air. In the end, the court rulings and these latest findings say it all: our litigation was justified and successful. We must hold our leaders to account when our health is on the line.”

DUH and ClientEarth’s legal battles in Germany took on new proportions in February 2018 when the country’s highest court confirmed that diesel restrictions were not only possible but legally necessary when they were the most efficient way to bring illegal pollution down.

A slew of diesel restrictions in major German cities followed – but later court results have included wins and settlements where less polluted cities propose other innovative traffic control measures, major improvements to bus, train and cycle infrastructure, discounts on season tickets and fleet-wide bus retrofits.

However, activities in the wake of the lockdown are in danger of reversing positive trends.

ClientEarth lawyer Ugo Taddei said: “The Covid-19 pandemic makes clear how important it is to clean up the air in accordance with the law, to avoid increasing the burden on those with poor health. But while the improvement in German air quality is encouraging, there is a risk Covid-19 could buck this trend. Amid the pandemic, people are abandoning public transport in favour of private vehicles. This shift worsens pollution and creates more dangerous conditions for cyclists and pedestrians. This is why we need concrete measures in place: we need to get the most polluting vehicles out of the centres of our towns and cities.”

ENDS

Notes to editors:

Summary of DUH/ClientEarth’s cases and their impact on air quality (German only): https://www.duh.de/fileadmin/user_upload/download/Pressemitteilungen/Verkehr/Übersicht_DUH-Klagestädte_NO2-Werte_2.pdf

The analysis was drawn from data from the German environment agency’s monitoring network (UBA).

DUH and ClientEarth are both waiting on the results of legal action related to Dieselgate.

ClientEarth just lodged legal requests for information on multiple vehicle models which are suspected to still be over-polluting EU roads five years after Dieselgate hit the headlines.

DUH expects a ruling from the European Court of Justice in 2021 regarding its legal disputes against the German Federal Motor Transport Authority, as car manufacturers continue to use illegal defeat devices.

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