Supreme court orders UK to cleanup

The Guardian reports that the UK’s failure to meet EU limits on nitrogen dioxide has led to a court ruling compelling the environment secretary to draw up a plan to meet EU rules by the end of 2015.

The supreme court has ordered the government to make plans for tackling the UK’s air pollution problem, which has been in breach of EU limits for years and is linked to circa 29,000 premature deaths each year.

NGO ClientEarth’s lawyer, Alan Andrews, said, ‘Air pollution kills tens of thousands of people in this country every year. We brought our case because we have a right to breathe clean air and today the supreme court has upheld that right.’

Health and environment campaigners welcomed the court’s verdict.

Mike Hobday, director of policy at the British Heart Foundation, said, ‘Today’s ruling sends a clear message to the government: they must put plans in place to clean up the UK’s dirty air. The government has a duty to protect public health and ensure the air we breathe is safe – a duty they have so far failed to fulfil.’

‘The public want our politicians to talk more about environmental issues during this election campaign,’ said Doug Parr, chief scientist at Greenpeace. ‘The judgement today shows why – systematic failure on air pollution means we need better plans to stop fuel burning in city centres from impacting our health and well-being.’

A Defra spokeswoman said, ‘Air quality has improved significantly in recent years and as this judgement recognises, work is already underway on revised plans to meet EU targets on NO2 as soon as possible. It has always been the government’s position to submit these plans before the end of this year. Meeting NO2 limits is a common challenge across Europe with 17 member states exceeding limits.’

Maria Eagle, shadow environment secretary, said, ‘This supreme court ruling is a damning indictment of the Tory-led government’s total failure to tackle the UK’s air pollution which is causing tens of thousands of early deaths each year.

‘Labour will deliver a national framework for low emission zones to enable local authorities to encourage cleaner, greener, less polluting vehicles to tackle this silent killer.’

Mike Hawes, SMMT chief executive, said, ‘Industry recognises the issues around air quality and is keen to see policy that reflects the progress made on vehicle emissions and wider challenges of CO2 reduction. Policies to improve air quality should focus on encouraging the uptake of the latest low emission vehicles, while also addressing other sources such as electricity generation and heating, which between them account for more than half of NOx emitted in the UK (Defra). Today’s diesel engines are the cleanest ever: high tech filters capture 99% of particulates and NOx emissions are down 84% since 2000.’

Gary Rae, campaigns manager for Brake, said, ‘The highest court in the land has made it clear that the government must do better when it comes to reducing air pollution. Everyone has a right to breathe clean air; this judgement confirms that right. It’s one reason why our theme for Road Safety Week this year is drive less, live more. We think road safety isn’t just about driving safely and legally, it’s about making our streets safe and pleasant to use. It’s also about doing what we can to protect ourselves, people around us and the planet we depend on. A big part of that is driving less, as little as possible, or not at all, if we can.’

The UK is not the only country in breach of EU air safety limits, with the European Environment Agency warning earlier this year that inaction by governments would see hundreds of thousands of Europeans die prematurely from pollution in the next 15 years.