Top EU court rules Germany has broken EU laws on air pollution

Top EU court rules Germany has broken EU laws on air pollution

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) has ruled that Germany has continually exceeded the upper limit for nitrogen dioxide, saying that German authorities have not taken “appropriate measures” to limit air pollution.

Germany found in breach of EU law

The European Union’s highest court ruled on Thursday that Germany has broken EU law, by allowing nitrogen dioxide levels to continually exceed the limits set by the EU. The European Commission originally filed the complaint back in 2018, stating that Germany, between 2010 and 2016, “has systematically and continuously exceeded the annual and hourly nitrogen dioxide (NO2) limit values,” in 26 regions, including major cities such as Munich and Berlin.

"Germany has clearly not adopted appropriate measures in good time to ensure that the time period during which the limit values for NO2 are exceeded is kept as short as possible in the 26 zones at issue," said the ECJ in a press release.

Germany was not the only country to face complaints from the EU commission. France, Italy and Britain were among several countries to have received complaints. The European Commission has reported that around 400.000 premature deaths are recorded every year across the EU, due to air pollutants.

What are the rules on nitrogen dioxide?

According to EU law, nitrogen dioxide levels must be kept under 40 micrograms per cubic metre as a yearly average, while the hourly average must not exceed 200 micrograms per cubic metre. Last year, six German cities were found to be in breach of these limits, according to the Federal Environmental Agency. Munich recorded the highest annual average, at 54 micrograms.

In 2016, there were apparently 90 cities that exceeded the pollution limits in Germany. However, the air quality in Germany has improved since then and by 2019, the number of cities that were exceeding the limit dropped to 25. The pollution levels continued to decrease over the course of the coronavirus pandemic in Germany, and in 2020, the number of cities exceeding national pollution limits had dropped to just six.

What effect does the ruling have?

The ruling opens the possibility for Germany to face possible future sanctions, should it not comply with the ECJ’s verdict. A report from the European Commission shows that fossil fuels, especially diesel-powered vehicles, are the primary source of nitrogen dioxide emissions. The Commission has since called on countries to promote the use of public transport and electric cars amongst their citizens.

William Nehra


William Nehra

William studied a masters in Classics at the University of Amsterdam. He is a big fan of Ancient History and football, particularly his beloved Watford FC.

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