Despite Copenhagen's international reputation as a green leader, air pollution in parts of the city has been a well-known problem for years, with nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels well over what the EU allows.
The air quality is worst along H.C. Andersens Boulevard, a main thoroughfare in the heart of the city. The Danish government was criticized early this year for forcing the City of Copenhagen to move an air quality measuring station further away from the busy street in an effort to artificially bring down NO2 levels rather than address the pollution directly.
The city's deputy mayor for the environment, Morten Kabell, criticized the state for its “great zeal in getting the city to acquiesce” to its demands to move the measuring station to a less-polluted location.
“One can only hope that the government will show the same zeal in the work to actually reduce air pollution in Copenhagen,” he wrote in a May press release.
The Danish Ecological Council (Det Økologiske Råd) has also slammed the government's attempts to move the station in order to a less-trafficked area.
“It's about time that politicians reduce pollution through tough environmental requirements on vehicles in the big cities instead of finding loopholes so that they can continue to take the easy way out,” council consultant Kåre Press-Kristensen said back in 2014.
Now the EU has warned the Danish government that it is tired of its failure to take real action on the issue.
In a letter sent to Foreign Minister Kristian Jensen that was obtained by Politiken newspaper, the EU Commission chastized Denmark for not rectifying its air pollution problem despite being aware of the issue for a decade. The letter states that the Danish government has failed to abide by the EU's air quality rules and said that the plan to move the HC Andersens Boulevard measuring station is unacceptable.
According to Politiken, the letter could be a precursor to the EU taking legal action against Denmark for exceeding the air pollution levels.
Press-Kristensen of the Ecological Council said that it is well past time that the Danish government act.
“When we pride ourselves on being the EU's green leader, it doesn't look good to get this kind of letter, especially when Denmark could have easily met these [NO2] levels by implementing tougher rules on trucks,” he told Politiken on Wednesday.
Environment Minister Esben Lunde Larsen told the newspaper that the government is working to bring down the pollution levels.
“We should of course do something about the problem here at home, but it is also important to put things in perspective. In the EU, the threshold value is exceeded in 19 countries and our problems aren't so big when compared to other countries,” he said.