Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is the fourth leading cause of death worldwide and has few effective therapies. It is characterized by anomalous and persistent inflammation, both local and systemic. Neutrophilic inflammation predominates in the COPD airway wall and lumen, but, despite the presence of abundant innate immune cells, the progressive clinical course of the disease is punctuated by recurrent infection-driven exacerbations. An extensive body of evidence (from cell culture to murine models and finally to the susceptibility of human patients with α1-antitrypsin deficiency to develop COPD) implicates neutrophil elastase and other neutrophil-derived proteases as key mediators of the tissue damage and relentless decline in lung function that occurs in this condition. In addition to the well recognized role of cytokines in modulating neutrophil function and survival, it has recently become apparent that hypoxia can influence neutrophil function, with impaired killing of pathogenic bacteria, enhanced release of proteases, and delayed apoptosis. This destructive neutrophil phenotype is predicted to be highly detrimental in the setting of the COPD microenvironment.