Supreme Court hears ClientEarth case on getting faster UK action to comply with legal NO2 limits
The Supreme Court in the UK heard ClientEarth’s case against the UK Government over its failure to meet legal limits for air pollution, for the final time on 16th April. This is the culmination of a 4-year battle in the UK and EU courts. The UK has been in breach of EU NO2 limit values in 16 areas. The Supreme Court case follows the 2014 ruling by the ECJ which held that the UK must have a plan to achieve air quality standards in the ‘shortest time possible’. The UK Government’s current plans will not meet legal limits for NO2 until after 2030 – almost a quarter of a century after the original deadline. ClientEarth is calling on the Supreme Court to order the Government to produce a new plan to rapidly deliver cuts to NO2 emissions in towns and cities across the UK. The plan will need to target pollution from diesel vehicles, which are the main source of NO2 pollution. That is particularly the case around Heathrow. ClientEarth wants Defra to produce the plan within 3 months. Defra’s lawyers suggested the plan might be produced before the end of 2015, but there is no indication when all areas would be compliant. As one of the five Supreme Court justices, Lord Carnwath, commented: “Here we are 4 years on without any idea when the Secretary of State thinks it will achieve compliance.” Judgment will probably be given one to three months after the hearing.
What does the ClientEarth case mean for UK air quality?
20.4.2015 (Air Quality News)
Editor’s blog, by Michael Holder
After a fortnight which saw high air pollution levels, a Defra website hacked by an Islamist group and political party manifestos launched, the UK government was once again in the dock over its failure to meet nitrogen dioxide limits. It’s hard to think of a more high profile period for the Supreme Court to hear a case about our air quality.
But amid the complicated legal wrangling over often convoluted wording in EU legislation – namely the Ambient Air Quality Directive – it was a little harder to unpick more precisely what the case is about, and most importantly, what it might mean for the air we breathe.
We know that the UK has been in breach of EU nitrogen dioxide limit values in 16 areas – the Supreme Court said so in 2013.
But while Defra drafted its current air quality plan aimed at meeting these limit values in 2011, it then conceded last year that this plan will not see legal air quality until sometime after 2030 in several UK zones.
So, as it stands, it is unclear when people in several densely populated parts of the country will be able to breathe lawful air, but we are told that it will be at least another 15 years in the likes of London, the West Midlands and West Yorkshire, and more than 20 years after the original EU deadline.
To its credit, Defra has more recently announced that it would be revising its air quality plan “to reflect recent action so we can be compliant as soon as possible”, and indeed Kassie Smith QC made regular reference to this revision process in the Department’s defence to the Supreme Court on Thursday (April 16).
But while the QC suggested the plan would be likely to surface before the end of 2015, there was no indication as to when the plan would aim to have all UK zone compliant with the EU Directive beyond ‘as soon as possible’.
And this issue is at the crux of the matter, as while Defra is drafting a new plan on its own timescale, ClientEarth demands that the Supreme Court order Defra to produce a new plan “within three months” that is as detailed and rigorous as possible.
So a major question is whether the Supreme Court deems it necessary to give a mandatory order for Defra to produce a new air quality plan.
And, if the Court does order a new plan, what kind of detail must such a plan contain? And how tough or ambitious must the plan be in seeking to meet the EU limit values?
It is now four years since ClientEarth first launched legal action against Defra over the NO2 breaches, and it will be hoping for answers to these questions.
As one of the five Supreme Court justices, Lord Carnwath, commented during last week’s hearing: “Here we are four years on without any idea when the Secretary of State thinks it will achieve compliance.”
ClientEarth braced for final UK air quality court hearing
16.4.2015 (Air Quality News)
By Michael Holder
The government faces its final hearing in the Supreme Court today (April 16) in a case brought by environmental lawyer group ClientEarth over the UK’s failure to comply with EU air pollution limits.
The UK Supreme Court’s final hearing in ClientEarth’s case against the UK government will takes place today – April 16 2015 (Photo – UK Supreme Court)
However, a final judgement in the case may not be handed down by the Court until July 2015, 12 weeks after today’s final hearing and around two months after the General Election on May 7.
The case is the culmination of a four-year battle for ClientEarth in both the UK and EU courts and follows last year’s ruling from the European Court of Justice (CJEU) that the UK can be ordered by national courts to draw up a plan to meet EU NO2 limits in the ‘shortest possible time’.
This was the CJEU’s first ever ruling on the effect of the EU’s Air Quality Directive, which establishes a set of legal limits and target dates for reducing air pollutants, including nitrogen dioxide.
Under current government plans, the UK is not expected to meet legal limits for nitrogen dioxide in three zones – Greater London, West Midlands and West Yorkshire urban areas – until after 2030. This is 20 years later than the original EU legal deadline.
Current government projections, revised last year, show that 5 of 43 UK zones will be compliant by 2015, 15 zones by 2020, 38 by 2025 and 40 out of 43 by 2030.
In today’s hearing, ClientEarth will call on the Supreme Court to order the government to produce a new plan to meet the EU limits.
And, according to ClientEarth, this plan will need to target pollution from diesel vehicles, which it says is the main source of nitrogen dioxide pollution.
Ahead of the hearing, Alan Andrews, ClientEarth lawyer, said: “We all have the right to breathe clean air and ClientEarth has spent the last four years fighting to uphold that right in Court.
“The government’s current plans won’t achieve legal limits for decades. Every year that goes by, thousands more people will die or be made seriously ill from heart attacks, asthma attacks, strokes and cancer. We need to get the most polluting diesel vehicles out of city centres as soon as possible for the sake of our health and our children’s health.”
Since ClientEarth first brought the long-running case against the UK government, the European Commission has also separately launched legal proceedings against the UK over its ‘failure to cut excessive levels of nitrogen dioxide’, as well as against 16 other EU Member States (see AirQualityNews.com story).
However, Defra has said it is “investing heavily” in measures to improve air quality and to comply with EU law, including £2 billion since 2011 on initiatives to increase the uptake of ultra-low emission vehicles, sustainable travel and green transport.
UK Government in Supreme Court over illegal air pollution on Thursday 16 April 2015
13 April 2015 (Client Earth)
The Supreme Court will hear ClientEarth’s case against the UK Government over its failure to meet legal limits for air pollution for the final time on Thursday (16 April 2015).
The culmination of a four-year battle in the UK and EU courts, the hearing follows last year’s ruling from the European Court of Justice which held that the UK must have a plan to achieve air quality standards in the ‘shortest time possible’.
The Government’s current plans will not meet legal limits for the harmful pollutant nitrogen dioxide until after 2030 – almost a quarter of a century after the original deadline, despite the fact that scientists estimate at least 29,000 people die early in the UK each year as a result of air pollution.
ClientEarth will call on the Supreme Court to order the Government to produce a new plan which will deliver urgent cuts to the illegal levels of air pollution in towns and cities across the UK. This plan will need to target pollution from diesel vehicles: the main source of nitrogen dioxide pollution.
Alan Andrews, ClientEarth lawyer, said: “We all have the right to breathe clean air and ClientEarth has spent the last four years fighting to uphold that right in Court.”
“The Government’s current plans won’t achieve legal limits for decades. Every year that goes by, thousands more people will die or be made seriously ill from heart attacks, asthma attacks, strokes and cancer.”
“We need to get the most polluting diesel vehicles out of city centres as soon as possible for the sake of our health and our children’s health.
Notes to editors
Any court order will be binding on the office of Secretary of State as representative of central government, regardless of what political party or parties form the next government. Judgment will probably be given one to three months after the hearing.
Air pollution health impacts
• Around 29,000 people die early in the UK each year as a result of air pollution – more than traffic accidents and passive smoking combined.
• Air pollution has been linked to coronary artery disease, heart attacks and strokes.
• Studies have shown that traffic-related air pollution affects lung function in children.
• Diesel vehicles emit far more of the dangerous pollutants than petrol vehicles.
The case concerns 16 cities and regions including London, Manchester, Leeds, Birmingham and Glasgow. Government plans show that these areas will suffer from illegal levels of air pollution long after they were obliged to comply with limits.