THE Supreme court has declared that the UK Government is failing to protect people from dangerous levels of air pollution. This decision paves the way for the European Commission to take legal action against the UK.
Air pollution causes 4,000 early deaths each year in London alone and poses a particular danger to children and those with existing health conditions.
The court case, brought by environmental lawyers at Client Earth, concerns 16 cities and regions which government plans show will suffer from illegal levels of nitrogen dioxide, a toxic gas – until as late as 2020 or 2025.
The Supreme Court confirmed that because the Government is in breach of the EU Air Quality Directive “the way is open to immediate enforcement action at national or European level”. However, before deciding whether to take further action to enforce the law, it has referred a number of legal questions to the Court of Justice of the European Union.
Jean Lambert, Green Party Member of the European Parliament for London and an honorary founder member of Clean Air London said:
“This ruling confirms what many of us have been saying for a long time: The UK Government must do more to protect the population from harmful levels of air pollution.
For too long we’ve seen action on air pollution happening at a snail’s pace. The government must take heed of this ruling and get to work on drastically reducing the levels of pollution in our towns and cities.”
James Thornton, ClientEarth CEO, said: “This historic ruling marks a turning point in the fight for clean air and will pile the pressure on Owen Paterson.
Faced with court action on two fronts, he must now come up with an ambitious plan to protect people from carcinogenic diesel fumes. Until now, his only policy has been lobbying in Europe to try and weaken air pollution laws.”
“The Supreme Court recognised that this case has broader implications for EU environmental law: The Government can’t flout environmental law with impunity. If the Government breaks the law, citizens can demand justice and the courts must act.”