DAA Daily

Citizens suing German government over toxic air

By Lauren Chalouhi, Editor-in-chief, The Pawprint

A group of German citizens are suing their government over high air pollution levels. Although, this isn’t the first country where citizens have sued their own government.

The Russian government was sued in 2018 by a group of activists, demanding that the government take stronger action over the climate crisis. Another example is in France, in 2021. Civil society organizations, private citizens and advocacy groups use courts to hold governments accountable for their climate inaction.

They are saying their right to breathe clean and fresh air is being breached, and the government is failing to protect their citizens’ health.

Like other countries, Germany is facing high air pollution levels, and has passed the World Health Organization limits. The guidelines recommend levels and interim targets for common air pollutants: PM, O3, NO2, and SO2 (WHO). Germany’s air pollution levels are: PM2. 5 reading of 14.9 µg/m3. PM2.5 concentration in Meppen is currently 4.3 times the WHO annual air quality guideline value.

Around the world, air pollution is connected with seven million premature deaths a year.

It’s the first time citizens in Germany have taken an action this high, to advocate human rights legislation.

The group of seven, including parents fighting on behalf of children, are saying their health is at risk and the politicians are failing to protect them, also many of them have asthma.

The advocates live in Munich, Berlin, Dusseldorf and Frankfurt. Four of Germany’s seven biggest cities, and are claiming they are breathing it with high concentration of pollution, four to five times higher than the WHO’s acceptable limits.

Volker Becker-Battaglia lives in Munich, on one of Germany’s most polluted streets. “Air pollution is a problem you can’t see. It’s not in people’s minds, but it’s a killer.” A mother is joining and taking part in the case for her two children. She says, “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.”

Germany’s air pollution levels meet with the country’s own law, but the advocates are saying the law must be changed to reflect growing scientific agreement.

Germany’s Environment Agency said that the federal states are responsible for evaluating the air quality, and should take action if the limits are breached.

A spokesperson said, “the WHO guide values are recommendations that do not have the legally binding character of the limit values of the EU Air Quality Directive.”

Research that was published this month suggests how breathing in car fumes can lead to lung cancer by awakening ‘dormant cells.’ Around one in ten cases of the disease is allocated to air pollution.

The German court could force the government to take action to lower it.

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