UK referred to highest EU court over illegal air pollution

The UK is one of six EU member states referred to the European Court of Justice today for breaching agreed air quality limits and failing to make improvements as quickly as possible.


France, Germany, Hungary, Italy and Romania are the other countries subject to enforcement, with the European Commission arguing they have had enough “last chances” to improve the situation over the last decade.

The institution is also issuing additional letters of formal notice to the UK, Germany, Italy and Luxembourg on the grounds that they have disregarded EU vehicle type approval rules.

Commissioner for Environment, Karmenu Vela, said: “The decision to refer member states to the court of justice of the EU has been taken on behalf of Europeans.

“We have said that this commission is one that protects – our decision follows through on that claim. It is my conviction that today's decision will lead to improvements for citizens on a much quicker timescale.”

The UK, France and Germany have been referred to the EU court based on their failures to limit NO2 levels in the atmosphere, which are mostly the result of road traffic and industry.

Hungary, Italy and Romania could face action due to their persistently high levels of particulate matter, which is mainly present in emissions from industry, domestic heating, traffic, and agriculture.

This comes after environmental lawyers at ClientEarth started legal proceedings against the UK government for a third time last year after criticising its prolonged failure to address air pollution.

The group celebrated a High Court victory in 2016 forcing the government to tackle a problem that is thought to be responsible for 29,000 premature deaths in the UK every year.

“On top of our three successful cases, today’s legal action is more damning evidence of the mountain the UK government still has to climb to bring air pollution to within legal limits,” ClientEarth CEO, James Thornton, said.

“The UK needs a new Clean Air Act fit for the 21st Century and targeted action, like scrappage schemes and clean air zones which keep the dirtiest vehicles out of our most polluted towns and cities.

“We need an overhaul of fiscal incentives to favour cleaner ways of getting around, and we need the car industry to contribute financially to help get us out of the mess that it helped create.”


Image credit: iStock


Chris Seekings is a reporter for TRANSFORM

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