Financial penalties are likely to be imposed on Germany if it does not improve air quality in several major cities, as the country has repeatedly violated the European Union’s air pollution.
Air pollution in Europe has declined in the last decade, but remains the biggest environmental health risk. Prolonged exposure to polluted air can cause diabetes, lung disease and cancer.
The EU tribunal ruled that from 2010 to 2016, Germany consistently violated EU annual limits on nitrogen dioxide (NO2) pollution in 26 areas, including Berlin, Stuttgart, Munich, Cologne and Düsseldorf. Stuttgart and the Rhine-Main region also violated NO2 hourly limits during this period, he said.
Air pollution: Bells are possible
Supporting the European Commission that brought the case before it, the court ruled that the German government had failed to take measures to ensure compliance with EU air quality rules. Germany must now comply or face further legal action.
Since 2016, however, most areas have curbed NO2 pollution to comply with EU borders, with the help of a shift to less polluting cars and local measures such as car bans, speed limits and a change to low-emission buses.
In 2020, its six cities Germany violated the annual average of 40 micrograms of NO2 per cubic meter of air, compared to 90 cities in 2016, according to government figures. Munich and Stuttgart were among the cities that broke the law last year.
Road transport is the main source of NO2 emissions, which means that urban areas tend to be hit harder.
Annual premature deaths attributed to NO2 emissions in the EU have dropped by more than half since 2009, however 54,000 premature deaths were recorded in 2018, according to the European Environment Agency.
In previous rulings, the Luxembourg court found France and Britain guilty of illegal NO2 pollution, while countries such as Hungary, Sweden and Italy violated the particulate matter limit.