UK government loses air pollution case, again

Environmental advocates in Britain have won a High Court case against the UK government over its failure to tackle air pollution. The judge criticised the government for using flawed modelling and setting distant target dates.

ClientEarth, a non-governmental environmental organisation, took the UK government to court, arguing that it had failed to take measures that would bring the UK into compliance with EU air pollution standards.

On Wednesday, a judge ruled in its favour, saying that the government’s Air Quality Plan was “inconsistent” with taking measures to improve pollution “as soon as possible”.

In his judgment, Justice Neil Garnham ruled that the government’s goal of complying with EU air pollution standards by 2020 for some cities, and 2025 for London, had been chosen simply because that was the date when ministers thought they would face European Commission fines. This makes the government’s Air Quality Plan inconsistent with relevant EU directives, which require it to act as quickly as possible to tackle air pollution, writes ClientEarth in a statement.

The ruling is a blow to the UK government, which is seeking to demonstrate its commitment to the Paris climate agreement. As AFP reports, Prime Minister Theresa May has promised to ratify the global accord by the end of the year. But many fear that Brexit could now erode the UK’s environmental commitments given that much of current UK environmental law derives from EU legislation.

This is the second time in two years that the UK government lost in court over its failure to clean up air pollution. In 2015, ClientEarth won a Supreme Court ruling that ordered ministers to come up with a plan to bring air pollution down within legal limits as soon as possible. That plan – the 2015 Air Quality Plan – has now been ruled unlawful and must be rewritten.

ClientEarth CEO James Thorton welcomed yesterday’s ruling but insisted “the time for legal action is over. This is an urgent public health crisis over which the Prime Minister must take personal control.”

Air pollution is responsible for tens of thousands of premature deaths a year in the UK.

 

Image credit: Maina Kiai, flickr/Creative Commons

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