Air Clean Up

  • Germany Asks EU to Review Nitrogen Dioxide Limits

Germany Asks EU to Review Nitrogen Dioxide Limits

Mar 10 2019 Read 481 Times

The German transport minister has sent a missive to the European commission regarding the current stringency of their nitrogen dioxide (NO2) limits. Citing evidence and testimonials from more than 100 lung specialists from the country, Andreas Scheuer has asked the EU to revisit its legislation on the matter with a view to relaxing the threshold for NO2 emissions.

However, the petition has provoked a strong response from the World Health Organisation (WHO), whose climate change and health leader Diarmid Campbell-Lendrum has said that Scheuer’s demands were based on “nothing that constitutes evidence”. Talks took place over the subject last month, with the lead author on the paper visiting Brussels to discuss the issue.

A German backlash

Germany has come under fire from environmentalists on several fronts in recent years. The reputation of the country’s automotive industry was left in tatters after the Volkswagen Dieselgate scandal, while it has been suggested that its energy mix is too dirty and, along with the UK, Germany is facing a disciplinary court case for falling afoul of the NO2 laws it is seeking to amend.

Its principal evidence for casting doubt on the legislation is a paper authored by Professor Dieter Köhler, a former president of the country’s Federal Association of Pulmonologists, Sleep and Respiratory Doctors (BdP). Köhler’s report, which is backed by 107 specialists from Germany, argues that the NO2 limits are too excessive and that fears over the effects of the contaminant are overblown.

Dissent within the ranks

However, Köhler’s views have been disavowed by the BdP, the very body he used to represent, and the 107 signatories on his paper represent a mere 3% of the more than 4,000 members of the organisation. As such, it has been suggested by those within and outside Germany that his arguments are founded not on fact but on “ill-informed populism”.

Campbell-Lendrum has been the most vocal opponent of the move, claiming: “We need evidence to be published in a peer-reviewed journal and properly reviewed by experts. We have heard the discussion but we’ve seen nothing that constitutes evidence, from our point of view. And we have guidelines that are based on thousands of scientific papers and drawn up by the world’s best possible experts.”

A non-issue?

Data collected by mobile monitoring stations assessing diesel emissions has proven beyond all doubt that while diesel cars may produce less carbon dioxide (CO2) than their petrol counterparts, they are responsible for higher emissions of both particulate matter 2.5 and NO2. While Köhler and Scheuer may argue that the latter pollutant is not as damaging as other reports have suggested, there can surely be no doubt that the contamination is not a good thing.

What’s more, an EU source pointed out that a fitness check of the EU’s air quality check had already been nearing completion prior to Köhler’s arrival in Brussels and that the NO2 initiative in particular had received widespread support among the European parliament. As such, it was stressed that the meeting would not affect policy, but had been extended to Köhler as “a mere courtesy”, suggesting German appeals are likely to fall on deaf ears.

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