ClientEarth gives government final legal warning – to act on air pollution within 10 days
Environmental law organisation, ClientEarth, has sent a final legal warning to the UK government which gives the Environment Secretary, Liz Truss, 10 days to act on air pollution or face action in the High Court. ClientEarth won a Supreme Court judgement on air pollution against the government in April 2015. They have now issued the legal letter because Defra’s plans to tackle illegal levels of pollution fall woefully short of what was ordered by the Court. The government’s current plans, which it was ordered to produce by the Supreme Court after losing to ClientEarth last year, do not envisage the UK to have legal levels of air pollution until 2025 – because of the delay in getting older more polluting vehicles off the roads altogether. ClientEarth has asked the government to produce new plans with a list of measures that will bring air pollution within legal limits in the shortest time possible and put these plans out to public consultation. If ClientEarth does not receive a satisfactory reply within 10 days, it will launch legal proceedings in the High Court. It will ask the High Court to compel ministers to submit improved plans. NO2 from diesel vehicles is creating much of the problem – a key issue for airport expansion, which generates high levels due to aircraft and road vehicles.
Final legal warning gives government 10 days to act on air pollution
1 March 2016 (Client Earth press release)
ClientEarth has sent a final legal warning to the UK government which gives the Environment Secretary, Liz Truss, 10 days to act on air pollution or face action in the High Court.
Environmental law organisation ClientEarth, which won a Supreme Court judgment on air pollution against the government last April, issued the legal letter because Defra’s plans to tackle illegal levels of pollution fall woefully short of what was ordered by the court.
An estimated 40,000 people die early due to air pollution in the UK every year. The government’s current plans, which it was ordered to produce by the Supreme Court after losing to ClientEarth last year, do not envisage the UK to have legal levels of air pollution until 2025.
ClientEarth CEO James Thornton, said: “Despite an order from the UK’s highest court, despite tens of thousands of premature deaths in this country every year and despite clear evidence to show that air pollution has a terrible effect on the health of vulnerable groups like children, the government has consistently ducked its responsibility to ensure our right to clean air.
“We have had to issue this legal warning to the government because of its failure to produce a plan that would bring air pollution down as soon as possible.”
ClientEarth has asked the government to produce new plans with a list of measures that will bring air pollution within legal limits in the shortest time possible and put these plans out to public consultation.
If ClientEarth does not receive a satisfactory reply within 10 days, it will launch legal proceedings in the High Court.
Law firm in new legal threat over UK air pollution
By Roger Harrabin (BBC Environment Analyst)
1 March 2016
The UK government has been warned to drastically reduce air pollution or face renewed legal action.
In April the Supreme Court ruled an immediate plan was needed after the UK breached EU limits for nitrogen dioxide (NO2).
The government said it was committed to cleaning the air and had delivered its plans accordingly.
But environmental law firm ClientEarth, which took the original case, said the plans still do not protect health.
ClientEarth says the government can and must do better, and it believes the courts will back it again unless the government improves its current policies. The firm has given ministers 10 days to respond.
Around 40,000 people are estimated to die prematurely every year in the UK because of bad air quality.
Nitrogen pollution from diesel vehicles is creating much of the problem – and this has been exacerbated by the scandal over testing which has made cars appear cleaner than they really are.
Ministers have responded by creating special anti-pollution zones in Leeds, Southampton, Birmingham, Nottingham, Derby and London.
They say they have also committed £2bn from 2011 to improving standards of buses, dustbin lorries and fire engines.
Diesel emissions problem
But they still do not envisage that the air will meet EU health standards around the UK until 2020 – and 2025 in London because of the delay in getting older dirtier vehicles off the roads altogether.
Alan Andrews from ClientEarth told the BBC the government had itself to blame for failing to act sooner against diesel cars.
“Throughout our five-year legal battle the government have claimed they couldn’t achieve legal limits because of the problems with the EU standards for diesel vehicles not delivering pollution reductions under normal driving conditions – but they failed to investigate why.
“Then they lobbied the EU to water down new regulations which will require new diesel cars to meet emissions limits on the road. As a consequence, new diesel cars will be able to emit double the emission limit until 2021.”
The involvement of diesel cars has caused discomfort for the government, which has long incentivised drivers to buy diesel vehicles because they produce less of the CO2 emissions that cause climate change.
The government does not envisage the air will meet EU health standards in London until 2025. Client Earth says if the government declines to propose new measures it will ask the High Court to compel ministers to submit improved plans. It says the ministerial code obliges ministers to abide by court rules.
The European Commission has the powers to fine the UK – among many other nations in breach of the air quality rules – but it is waiting to see the British legal process exhausted before it considers intervention.
A government spokesman said: “Our plans clearly set out how we will improve the UK’s air quality through a new programme of Clean Air Zones, which alongside national action and continued investment in clean technologies will create cleaner, healthier air for all.”
Responding to the claim that the government lobbied the EU to “water down” new regulations on diesel cars, a Department for Transport spokesman said Britain had been “at the forefront of calls for action at European level to introduce stringent Real Driving Emissions (RDE) testing”.
He added: “The UK is fully committed to improving air quality and we welcomed the European Parliament’s decision in early February to support proposals to introduce RDE testing for all new cars in Europe.”
DEFRA produces plan to improve air quality – Client Earth regards it as inadequate
A ruling by the Supreme Court in April 2015 required the government to produce a comprehensive plan to meet air pollution limits by December. The government has now produced this. The intention is that it has to include low emission zones, congestion charging and other economic incentives. It is thought that due to the failure to meet European limits of harmful NOx gases, which are mostly caused by diesel traffic, there are up to 9,500 premature deaths each year in London alone. Under the government’s plan, “Clean Air Zones” will be introduced – by 2020 – in areas of Birmingham, Leeds, Nottingham, Derby and Southampton where pollution is most serious. However, though vehicles like old buses, taxis, coaches and lorries have to pay a charge to enter these zones – private passenger cars will not be charged. Also newer vehicles that meet the latest emission standards will not need to pay. Client Earth, the lawyers who brought the legal case against the UK government, for breaching the EU’s Air Quality Directive, said the plan falls far short of the action necessary to comply with the Supreme Court ruling, and they will make a legal challenge to force the government to take faster action to achieve legal pollution limits. “As soon as possible,” or by 2020, is not soon enough.
10 MPs and council leaders write to PM to warn over air quality problems of Heathrow 3rd runway
Opponents of a Heathrow 3rd runway have written to David Cameron, asking him to block it on the grounds of “illegal” air pollution. Ten MPs have signed the letter, including Tim Farron, (leader of the Liberal Democrats and staunch opponent of Heathrow), London mayoral candidate Zac Goldsmith, and the representatives of Twickenham (Tania Mathias), Windsor (Adam Afriye), Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter), Harrow East (Bob Blackman), Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake), and Brentford and Isleworth (Ruth Cadbury). Poor air quality is a huge cause of public concern, particularly in London, with increasing awareness of the impact of NO2 and particulate matter on health. Air pollution is a make or break issue for Heathrow, already often in breach of air quality limits. In the letter, the MPs said: “Air quality is a huge cause of public concern, particularly in London, and this has only been exacerbated by the recent revelations regarding VW emissions tests.” They say that failing to meet European Union air pollution rules could mean that “large financial penalties” are imposed on Britain “which would ultimately have huge implications for the UK taxpayer”. Heathrow has various optimistic – somewhat unrealistic – claims about how air pollution limits could be met, even with more air freight and 50% more flights.