The government faces its final hearing in the Supreme Court today (April 16) in a case brought by environmental lawyer group ClientEarth over the UK’s failure to comply with EU air pollution limits.
However, a final judgement in the case may not be handed down by the Court until July 2015, 12 weeks after today’s final hearing and around two months after the General Election on May 7.
The case is the culmination of a four-year battle for ClientEarth in both the UK and EU courts and follows last year’s ruling from the European Court of Justice (CJEU) that the UK can be ordered by national courts to draw up a plan to meet EU NO2 limits in the ‘shortest possible time’.
This was the CJEU’s first ever ruling on the effect of the EU’s Air Quality Directive, which establishes a set of legal limits and target dates for reducing air pollutants, including nitrogen dioxide.
Under current government plans, the UK is not expected to meet legal limits for nitrogen dioxide in three zones – Greater London, West Midlands and West Yorkshire urban areas – until after 2030. This is 20 years later than the original EU legal deadline.
Current government projections, revised last year, show that 5 of 43 UK zones will be compliant by 2015, 15 zones by 2020, 38 by 2025 and 40 out of 43 by 2030.
In today’s hearing, ClientEarth will call on the Supreme Court to order the government to produce a new plan to meet the EU limits.
And, according to ClientEarth, this plan will need to target pollution from diesel vehicles, which it says is the main source of nitrogen dioxide pollution.
Ahead of the hearing, Alan Andrews, ClientEarth lawyer, said: “We all have the right to breathe clean air and ClientEarth has spent the last four years fighting to uphold that right in Court.
“The government’s current plans won’t achieve legal limits for decades. Every year that goes by, thousands more people will die or be made seriously ill from heart attacks, asthma attacks, strokes and cancer. We need to get the most polluting diesel vehicles out of city centres as soon as possible for the sake of our health and our children’s health.”
Since ClientEarth first brought the long-running case against the UK government, the European Commission has also separately launched legal proceedings against the UK over its ‘failure to cut excessive levels of nitrogen dioxide’, as well as against 16 other EU Member States (see AirQualityNews.com story).
However, Defra has said it is “investing heavily” in measures to improve air quality and to comply with EU law, including £2 billion since 2011 on initiatives to increase the uptake of ultra-low emission vehicles, sustainable travel and green transport.