Friends of the Earth Netherlands demands the right to clean air

Amsterdam, 14 November 2017- The Netherlands must stop violating the human right to health. Milieudefensie (Friends of the Earth Netherlands) is calling for this at the court in The Hague today, by bringing a lawsuit against the Dutch government to demand clean air. The Netherlands has so far done little to improve air quality and its inhabitants suffer serious harm to their health as a result. Moreover, the Dutch state is violating European Union air quality standards.

‘The government is choking us’

Anne Knol, head of Milieudefensie’s Sustainable Mobility campaign: ‘The government is choking us. Air pollution is currently responsible for tens of thousands of ill people and thousands of deaths per year. Just breathing in the Netherlands is the equivalent of smoking five cigarettes per day. We demand that this is stopped as soon as possible.’
Right to clean air

In September, a preliminary injunction ordered the Dutch state to present a new air quality plan. However, the plan prepared by Dutch state secretary Stientje van Veldhoven contains no effective measures to improve air quality in the near future. Anne Knol: ‘It’s unbelievable. Even after the summary court ruling, the government still sees no urgency to stop this assault to our health. We find that unacceptable.’

RIVM: air still polluted in 2020

In late October, the Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) published its annual report on air quality in the Netherlands. It stated that air pollution from nitrogen dioxide in 2016 had actually increased since 2015. Pollution from particulate matter emissions decreased slightly from the previous year, although it is doubtful that this decline will continue in the future. The RIVM has predicted that air quality standards will still be exceeded in 2020.

Plaintiffs from the all over the country

‘I have been concerned about the unhealthy air that I’ve been breathing since the 1980s’, stated Arjen Slot, a jogger from Utrecht. He is one of the co-plaintiffs in the lawsuit and has been fighting against air pollution for years. ‘Healthy air is a basic need for every human being. It is incomprehensible that we have to impose this via a court case. Policy is still based on the right to pollute instead of the human right to health.’ There are a total of 57 individual co-plaintiffs from different regions of the country; another co-plaintiff is ‘Adem in Rotterdam’, a non-profit foundation for clean air.

Air Guardians

To urge national and local government to increase their efforts, next year Milieudefensie will introduce ‘Luchtwachters’, or Air Guardians. These are residents who will diligently and closely monitor whether efforts are made to quickly and effectively improve air quality. Air quality is most unhealthy on the busy roads in Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague, Utrecht, Arnhem, Den Bosch and Eindhoven. Residents of those cities can register as Air Guardians. But those who don’t live in these cities are also invited to join, to monitor the government, for instance.