Greenpeace activists bare their lungs for clean air

Commission ordered Member States to explain inaction on dangerous air pollution

Press release - January 30, 2018
Brussels – Nine Greenpeace activists baring their lungs on their chests demanded “Clean Air Now” outside a closed-door emergency meeting called by EU Environment Commissioner, Karmenu Vella.

In 2017, the European Commission warned five countries, namely Germany, France, Spain, Italy and the United Kingdom, of imminent court action over continuous breaches of European air quality standards, in place since 2010. The Czech Republic, Romania, Hungary and Slovakia were also called into today’s meeting for breaches of the EU’s air quality laws.

Greenpeace air quality campaigner Benjamin Stephan said: “Car fumes are killing tens of thousands across Europe. While there are laws to protect us, for years our governments have simply not been taking the action necessary to stop illegal levels of air pollution. That is criminal, and should be penalised. Every day of delay in switching from diesel and petrol cars to clean forms of transport, will result in more deaths and make driving bans inevitable.”

Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) is one of several toxic air pollutants emitted from the internal combustion engine of automobiles. It can cause cardiovascular and respiratory diseases like asthma. The European Environmental Agency estimates that NO2 causes 75,000 premature deaths across the EU annually (1). The toxic gas mainly originates from traffic, particularly from diesel cars.

The nine countries have been violating EU air quality thresholds for nitrogen dioxide since 2010. The EU’s air quality law obliges Member States to limit the exposure of citizens to harmful air pollutants and sets an annual average threshold of 40 µg/m3 for NO2.

(1)   Report on air quality in Europe published by the European Environment Agency, 2017,

Gregor Kessler – Greenpeace press officer: +49 (151) 72 70 29 18,
Benjamin Stephan – Greenpeace air quality campaigner: +49 (151) 57 20 81 51


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Greenpeace is an independent global campaigning organisation that acts to change attitudes and behaviour, to protect and conserve the environment and to promote peace. Greenpeace does not accept donations from governments, the EU, businesses or political parties.