Clean air: taking it to the judge

The air in the Netherlands is pretty unhealthy. This is mostly due to car and lorry traffic. There are many toxic substances in the air we breathe. Every year thousands of people die because of their long-term exposure to polluted air. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of other people suffer from serious, chronic illnesses.

The government, however, doesn’t do enough to deal with the problem. They have often even done the opposite of what they should be doing – improving the health of its citizens.

They have allocated billions of euro for roadway expansion and have also increased the maximum speed limit. These are counterproductive if the goal is improving the air we breathe. That is why in 2017 Milieudefensie, together with many concerned citizens, took the government  to court – and we managed to win!

Milieudefensie wins first court case

On 7 September 2017, we won our first court case against the Dutch government in a so-called emergency proceeding and so, it was decided quickly. During the court case, Milieudefensie showed that the air quality in many areas was worse than what EU laws allow.

The judge completely agreed. The government now must take immediate and significant steps to improve the air quality in all of these areas  where the air quality was above the EU maximum. It was a huge victory! Our ‘Air warden’ volunteers are now busy throughout the Netherlands keeping track to make sure that the government is actually doing something.

Right to clean air

We opted for an emergency proceeding because it took so long for the courts to assign it as a regular case – it can take years. We had already announced our regular court case on 11 May 2016. But it wasn’t until 14 November 2017 that our case was finally heard in court.

We want to make it clear with this case that clean air is – and should be treated as – a human right. The Dutch government should do more than just meet the EU maximum. These regulations do not go far enough to protect European citizens.

Milieudefensie is urging the Netherlands to abide by the World Health Organization’s recommendations, which are twice as strict as the current EU regulations, and would be a great benefit for our health and the climate. The verdict on 27 December 2017 was disappointing. Milieudefensie lost but will be appealing the decision.

‘Together for clean air’ campaign

In 2004, it became clear that the air in the Netherlands was more polluted than almost any other European region. Milieudefensie launched its campaign ‘The Netherlands can’t breathe’ in response to these findings.

Milieudefensie hung banners along busy roadways to get the public’s attention. While volunteers went out and cleaned the soot off people’s windows and drafted a list of the dirtiest streets in the Netherlands.
This campaign continued in 2012, under the banner ‘United for heathy air’. Ordinary citizens began to take action and Milieudefensie supported their actions. Local volunteers tested the air quality of their own streets in more than 100 locations and took the findings to their local municipalities where they called for action.

The success of this campaign ensured that air pollution became a hot topic in town council meetings and even in Parliament.
Since 2017, the campaign has evolved to cover more than just clean air. Cars, lorries and delivery vans don’t just pollute, they also take up a lot of space. Our cities, in particular, are becoming very crowded.

Cyclists and pedestrians are being squeezed out by these developments. But it is Milieudefensie’s belief that pedestrians and bicyclists are the very people who deserve more accommodation and more room to move.

Milieudefensie’s goal is a sustainable city. We want places where children can play safely on streets and where we can go grocery shopping  by bike and where we can commute to work using sustainable public transportation and shared electric cars. This is not only healthier and safer, it’s also much better for our climate.