ClientEarth wins case – EU Court rules UK government must act to clean up deadly air pollution
The European Court of Justice (ECJ) has delivered its judgement in ClientEarth’s case, that the UK must act to clean up illegal levels of air pollution “as soon as possible”. Under current plans the UK will not meet legal limits for nitrogen dioxide (NO2) until after 2030 – twenty years after the original deadline. NO2 has known harmful health impacts including increasing the risk of heart attacks and asthma. In their case at the ECJ, ClientEarth win on all points. The judgement says the UK’s plans should have aimed at compliance by 1 January 2015 at the latest. The UK remains in ongoing breach of EU law, and UK courts must order the government to produce a plan which rapidly achieves NO2 limits. To be successful, a plan to deal with air pollution needs to drastically cut nitrogen oxides from diesel vehicles. Much of the air pollution around airports, like Heathrow, is caused by these diesel vehicles. Around 29,000 people die early in the UK each year as a result of air pollution, making it the biggest public health problem after smoking. ClientEarth’s case will return to the UK Supreme Court for a final ruling next year.
EU Court rules UK government must act to clean up deadly air pollution
19 November 2014 (Client Earth)
– ClientEarth win on all points
– UK plans should have aimed at compliance by 1 January 2015 at the latest
– UK in ongoing breach of EU lawUK courts must order the government to produce a plan which achieves nitrogen dioxide limits “as soon as possible”
The European Court of Justice (ECJ) has delivered its judgment in ClientEarth’s case and firmly upheld our right to breathe clean air. The ECJ has ruled that the UK must act to clean up illegal levels of air pollution “as soon as possible”. Under current plans the UK will not meet legal limits for nitrogen dioxide until after 2030 – 20 years after the original deadline.
Around 29,000 people die early in the UK each year as a result of air pollution, making it the biggest public health problem after smoking.
ClientEarth’s case will return to the UK Supreme Court for a final ruling next year. This should see the UK Supreme Court ordering the government to take action to meet limits in a much shorter timeframe. This plan would need to drastically cut pollution from diesel vehicles and could lead to policies like the London Mayor’s plans for an “ultra low emission zone“ being rolled out nationally.
Alan Andrews, ClientEarth lawyer, said: “This ruling is a big victory for the millions of people who want to live healthy lives in the UK’s towns and cities. This will force the government to finally take this issue seriously and come up with an urgent plan to rid our towns and cities of cancer-causing diesel fumes.
“This sets a groundbreaking legal precedent in EU law and paves the way for a series of legal challenges across Europe. ClientEarth will spearhead these efforts to help people defend their right to clean air in court.”
Diesel fumes are the main source of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) – a harmful gas linked with heart attacks and asthma. The ECJ’s landmark ruling is the first ever on the 2008 Air Quality Directive.
George Leigh, ClientEarth communications officer: t. +44 (0)203 030 5951
Notes to editors:
- Cancer: Diesel engine exhaust is carcinogenic(June 2012).
- The World Health Organization recently reported that 7 million people died in 2012 as a result of air pollution exposure.
- In February 2014, the European Commission brought a separate case against the UK for breaching air quality laws on nitrogen dioxide.
- ClientEarth runs the Healthy Air Campaign: http://healthyair.org.uk/.
Other press releases on air pollution from ClientEarth:
- EU Court rules UK government must act to clean up deadly air pollution
- UK air pollution – EU court judgement due on Wednesday, 19 November 2014
- New figures for UK air pollution show the results of Government inaction
Heathrow suggests congestion charge for vehicles – to try and keep within air quality limits
Heathrow will announce its north- west runway plan on Tuesday 13th May. They have no interest in the Jock Lowe Heathrow Hub option. Heathrow is aware that as well as noise, air pollution is a show – stopper issue for their hopes of a new runway. Hence they are now suggesting to the Airports Commission that there should be a congestion charge for people travelling to Heathrow by car – after the public transport has been set up (largely at public expense). Some of the money raised may go towards public transport. Heathrow is trying to make out there will not only be no more noise caused by a 3rd runway, but no more road vehicles than now. They depend on emissions standards for NOx for new cars becoming tighter in future. Expansion of Heathrow would mean massive road congestion in the area. The Standard reports that Heathrow is moving its planned north-west runway slightly south, in order to avoid the M25 and M4 junction. To make way for the new runway to the north west of the airport, Heathrow will build a 600-metre tunnel taking traffic under the M25. A tunnel would run alongside the motorway – and be part-funded by Government.
Air pollution may affect babies even before birth and reduce lung size for life
The Sunday Times (Jonathan Leake) reports that a study has indicated that air pollution in Britain’s cities is stunting the growth of children’s lungs, and could reduce their lung capacity by 5% or more. It appears that toxic particles and gases emitted mainly by diesel vehicles disrupt lung growth, with damage starting to be inflicted in the womb. There is also separate research that indicates that babies gestated in areas with high air pollution levels are born with smaller heads, with the reduction in circumference directly related to air pollution levels. Dr Ian Mudway, of King’s College London, who has been involved in a 6-year study into how air pollution affects children in east London in Tower Hamlets and Hackney, said the evidence indicates the effect of air pollution start in the earliest years of life. Children’s lungs by the age nine are already smaller than they ought to be and their lung impairment continues throughout life. Air pollution gases and particles damage the linings of the lung, which is not good at mending itself, and retains the deficit for life. “Children are vulnerable because their lungs are developing so fast and their defences are not evolved. They also spend more time outside.”
Heathrow air pollution in relation to 2013 being the “Year of Air”
The European Commission has announced that 2013 is the ‘Year of Air’ with key European air pollution legislation up for review. The review represents a tremendous opportunity to improve public health by tightening air quality standards. Clean Air in London (CAL) believes that key outcomes from the ‘Year of Air’ must include continuity and the further tightening of health and legal protections. Increasing ‘flexibility’ in air pollution laws would weaken existing health and legal protections and is therefore unacceptable. There is a consultation by the EC, on options for the revision of the EU Thematic Strategy on air pollution and related policies, with the closing date on 4 March 2013. Heathrow is a major contributor to air pollution in West London, both from the airport itself and associated road traffic. Information from Hillingdon Council showed a clear correlation between the number of air transport movements and the levels of NOx.
European Commission launches legal action against UK over failure to reduce air pollution
The European Commission has launched legal proceedings over levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) in many British cities. There has been a long-running legal battle between London and Brussels over the 16 urban centres in the UK that will not be able to meet binding air quality standards by 2015, despite being granted a 5-year extension following the original 2010 deadline for compliance with the rules. 15 of the affected zones will not meet the standards until 2020 and parts of London are unlikely to meet NO2 standards until 2025, a full 15 years later than the original deadline. The EC has now started the legal case, which is likely to result in hefty fines of many millions of ££s which should have the effect of accelerating efforts to tackle air pollution. The zones included Greater London and the South East. The legal case has been precipitated by the environmental campaign group ClientEarth. The UK has some of the highest levels of NO2 in Europe. The UK government now has 2 months to respond to the EC’s legal action. The Heathrow area has bad air quality levels, due partly to the planes but with an even higher proportion from the intense road traffic, especially diesel vehicles, that the airport attracts.