The EU has announced that it’s referring the UK government to the Court of Justice of the European Union over the country’s air pollution levels.
UK government failings
In an announcement on Thursday 17 May, the European Commission said:
The Commission is today referring France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Romania and the United Kingdom to the Court of Justice of the EU 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 Commission is also issuing additional letters of formal notice to Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, and the United Kingdom on the grounds that they have disregarded EU vehicle type approval rules.
Specifically regarding the UK, the European Commission is taking this action because the government has failed to “respect limit values for nitrogen dioxide (NO2)”. Its statement further said the government:
did not present credible, effective and timely measures to reduce pollution, within the agreed limits and as soon as possible, as required under EU law. The Commission has therefore decided to proceed with legal action.
In 2016 it took eight days for the UK to violate its annual air pollution limit, last year it took just five days… While being most acute in London, illegal levels of air pollution is a problem across the UK. 37 of the UK’s 43 air quality zones don’t meet EU nitrogen dioxide limits, all of which should have fallen within safe limits by 2010.
A spokesperson for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said:
We continue to meet EU air quality limits for all pollutants apart from NO2, and data shows we are improving thanks to our efforts to bring levels of NO2 down. We will shortly build on our £3.5bn plan to tackle roadside emissions with a comprehensive clean air strategy.
The Commission’s action comes after several national legal cases against the UK government over air pollution.
More legal action for the government
On 5 April, figures from the Labour Party revealed that the UK government had spent over half a million pounds fighting court cases on air pollution. The actions, all brought by legal campaign group ClientEarth, saw the government taken to court on three occasions. In the most recent case, a judge ruled that the government can be brought back to court as many times as needed until it starts acting within the law.
The UK government has two months to respond to the EU Commission before it takes further action.