European Union takes United Kingdom to court over illegal air pollution levels

Wiki Media

In a statement issued today (17 May), the EC said that it is referring France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Romania and the United Kingdom to the Court of Justice of the European Union for failing to respect agreed air quality limit values and for "failing to take appropriate measures to keep exceedance periods as short as possible".

The European Environment Commissioner, Karmenu Vella, said the EU "owed it to its citizens", to take legal action.

The six are accused of failing to tackle nitrogen dioxide levels.

Air pollution from NO2 causes an estimated 23,500 early deaths every year in the UK.

The citizens deserve to know what is being done to protect them from polluted air.

Today's announcement should surprise no one, the countries being sent to the court have had too many final warnings", said European Environmental Bureau Air Quality Policy Officer Margherita Tolotto, who added that "it is essential to understand why some governments, but not others. have been sent to court today.

Pressure has increased on Italy's environment minister ahead of a crucial meeting in Brussels after the World Health Organisation revealed that three Italian cities are the worst in Europe in terms of air pollution and smog.

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Levels of nitrogen dioxide, mostly produced by diesel vehicles, have been illegally high since 2010 in the vast majority of urban areas in the UK. In contrast, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Spain delivered sufficient new measures after being given a final warning in January.

"We will shortly build on our £3.5 billion plan to tackle roadside emissions with a comprehensive Clean Air Strategy setting out a wide range of actions to reduce pollution from all sources".

The European legal case now moves to the ECJ, which will hold a hearing within months. He said: "The Commission is being forced to take legal action against the United Kingdom because the government remains steadfastly apathetic in the face of a public health crisis that is linked to the deaths of 50,000 British citizens every year".

Also on Thursday, in the continuing fall-out from the Volkswagen dieselgate scandal, the European commission issued renewed warnings to the UK, Germany, Italy and Luxembourg over their alleged failure to "have effective and dissuasive penalty systems in place to deter vehicle manufacturers from breaking the law".

The UK government has two months to respond to the EU Commission before it takes further action.

Reacting to the announcement, ClientEarth lawyer Ugo Taddei said: "We are glad that, at last, the Commission is taking serious steps to fight air pollution before the Court of Justice".

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