German Government Sued For Air Pollution Failure

Citizens in Europe’s economic powerhouse have begun litigation proceedings against Reichstag policymakers as ambient pollution consistently reaches ‘dangerous’ levels.

The right to clean air is becoming an increasingly familiar turn of phrase across the globe, with campaigners and concerned members of the public alike looking to prove a breathable atmosphere is a human right, not a luxury. A group in Germany has just become the latest to take this kind of action – the first time this has happened in the country. 

white concrete building under cloudy sky during daytime

Seven claimants living in the cities of Berlin, Dusseldorf, Frankfurt and Munich – four of largest German metropolitan areas – have cited measurements placing their local air pollution at between four and five times higher than the World Health Organisation’s own acceptable maximum limits. As such, the individuals have now begun steps to take the government to court, hold them to account, and force direct action. 

Although Germany’s air pollution levels are usually comparable to much of Europe and the UK, research is increasingly pointing to the fact that any air pollution is already too much, with even comparatively low levels of exposure linked to conditions ranging from dementia to heart disease. A recent report also highlighted the striking ability for some pollutants to awaken dormant cells in the lung, leading to cancer.

Both ClientEarth and Deutsche Umwelthilfe are backing the seven claimants in their efforts, which are just the latest example of legal action being taken over air pollution and the environment crisis. However, Germany’s Environment Agency has already confirmed that legal responsibility for assessing and addressing air quality lies with each individual federal state.

This view is relatively commonplace, but fails to take into account recommendations from experts at the WHO, International Union for Conservation of Nature, and World Meteorological Organization, who used World Clean Air Day 2022 to stress that air pollution does not recognise borders, emphasise the need for collaborative and collective solutions, and make it clear that central policymakers must bring regions together, and work together with other national governments to take effective global steps. 

Revisit Air Quality News‘ feature on The Climate Litigation boom from April this year.

Image: hoch3media


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1 year ago

Thank you, Martin. I note you mention that air pollution doesn’t recognise city or state boundaries. Quite so. How are we doing here in UK compared to Germany on AQ improvements? There’s not been much in the mainstream news lately. You have included a link to your article on Climate Litigation. Thank you. But whilst air pollution problems and the global climate emergecny are linked, they are not identical. Governments have to tackle both but approaches might be different. For example, biomass buring is seen by some as a good way to help reduce the global CO2 level because they say forests are renewable and therefore carbon neutral (highly debatable, of course) but even if this is true, they usually fail to mention the air pollution (PM, NO2 etc) generated by the wood burning and log drying and the transporting of logs and pellets, let alone the unhealthy dusty air dumped upon communities where those forest grow,are felled and deat witth at the mills. And on the other hand there might be some measures that are taken to reduce particulates and nitrogen oxides etc that go towards increasing the CO2 level? Perhaps someone here knows?

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