German citizens sue the government as air pollution jeopardizes health
German citizens argued that the government is violating their basic rights and putting their and their children's health at risk by breaking air pollution regulations.
German citizens are suing the federal government over health problems and worries brought on by widespread air pollution.
The World Health Organization's (WHO) experts reduced recommended thresholds last year, in some cases by as much as 75%, yet the German government failed to respond and German air pollution regulations remained stagnant.
As a result, citizens may be inhaling air that contains up to four or five times the amount of harmful pollution that scientists consider to be dangerous, yet authorities have no mandate to improve the situation.
The claimants contend that by disregarding science, the government is violating their basic rights and putting their health and that of their children at risk.
The seven claimants, supported by ClientEarth and Deutsche Umwelthilfe, are from the top four most polluted cities in Germany and include several asthmatic patients as well as parents appealing on behalf of their children. They are pleading with the government to act quickly to stiffen.
Claimant Constanze, from Düsseldorf, said that “I’m taking action for my two children. They deserve to grow up healthy – living in a city should not condemn them to getting sick because of air pollution, and carrying its impacts with them for the rest of their lives," and stressed that her goal is to "prevent any more avoidable damage to people’s health from air pollution – it’s our government’s duty to protect my children, and all of us.”
Another claimant from Munich, Volker, said “Air pollution may not often be named the official cause of death, but it claims lives – and causes long-term diseases, including cancer, heart problems, shortness of breath and strokes. I myself suffer with asthma."
Volker further stated that “In many ways, air pollution is an invisible issue – not enough people understand how badly it’s affecting them. Politicians are doing too little to protect people – particularly those most exposed. There are many ways to reduce pollution, but what’s missing is the political will to implement them."
He highlighted that “To change that, I am now suing for my right to breathe clean and healthy air.”
While pollution in Germany has decreased dramatically in recent years and now typically meets current EU regulations, the goalposts have shifted: the WHO has reduced what it considers acceptable by a factor of four or five in several circumstances.
Thus, even when cities are no longer unlawfully polluted, people are nonetheless inhaling air that is severely contaminated.
Irmina Kotiuk, a ClientEarth fundamental rights lawyer, said “We have somehow ended up living in a world where transport and industry seem to have more rights than people themselves. The scale of the problem is clear – more data emerges every year on how many people are affected by air pollution, how many people die early, and the myriad ways breathing toxic air can harm and alter our bodies. Yet while there are some local champions, national governments are painfully slow to address it.”
The EU is currently reforming its principal air quality law, the Ambient Air Quality Directive (AAQD), which sets the upper pollution thresholds for the whole bloc. However, the adoption and implementation process, once the law gets adopted, meant that the EU Member States will be able to get away with noncompliance for several years.
Kotiuk argued that “There has always been an epic delay when it comes to EU countries complying with air pollution law – they need to take action now to prevent any more lives being blighted unnecessarily, and any more children carrying the legacy of dirty air for life."
The ClientEarth lawyer concluded that “What’s needed here is simple – alignment of national air quality laws with the science laid out by the world’s leading experts. This is the bare minimum our leaders should be doing to protect people.”
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