Germany was handed a stinging rebuke from the European Union’s top court for consistently failing to clean up dirty air in its cities from Berlin to Cologne, endangering public health.
A 2018 crackdown on dirty air by the European Commission included the U.K., Germany and France, with the EU regulator accusing them of failing to meet limits on nitrogen oxide, which is mostly caused by road traffic and industry. EU court judges in previous rulings also chided France and the U.K. for “persistently” exceeding limits.
Germany saw a wave of litigation in 2018 over air pollution in inner cities and various courts said that local governments needed to improve their plans, including banning older, and more polluting, diesel vehicles from streets that suffered most from pollution. Since then the government has improved its pollution targets.
“The judgment refers to the past,” Hildegard Mueller, president of the German auto industry’s lobby group VDA, said. “The development of the last few years shows a massive improvement of the air in our cities. Vehicle emissions have been reduced through considerable efforts of the car industry.”
The courts have become an increasingly successful arena for campaigners to hold governments and countries to account over pollution and climate change. Germany’s highest court said in April that Chancellor Angela Merkel’s climate-protection efforts were falling short.
Autos are the main emitters of nitrogen oxides, which cause respiratory problems and have been linked to premature deaths. Some EU countries have consistently breached pollution limits set my the bloc. Air pollution kills more than 400,000 Europeans each year and about 60,000 Germans, according to the European Environment Agency
Not-for-profit environmental law firm ClientEarth last year sued Germany “over its long-term failure to control illegal and dangerous air pollutant emissions all over the country.”
“Any new government must ensure that the roughly 10 million fraudulent diesel cars still circulating our streets need to be taken of the roads or be retrofitted at the expense of the carmakers,” said DUH, a German environmental NGO that successfully sued the German government over pollution previously.
The case is: C-635/18, European Commission v. Federal Republic of Germany.