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.
“Between 2010 and 2016, Germany systematically and persistently exceeded the limit values for nitrogen dioxide,” the EU Court of Justice said in a ruling on Thursday.
A 2018 crackdown on dirty air by the European Commission included the UK, 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 UK 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.
Stephan Stracke, a deputy leader of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative caucus, said the court’s ruling had been “overtaken by reality” as Germany had achieved a “massive” improvement in air quality in recent years.
“It is a great success of our policy that we have achieved this without blanket driving bans, but with incentives for low-emission vehicles, technical innovation and through retrofitting of local public transport,” Stracke said in an emailed statement.
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.