Defra minister Therese Coffey is expected in Brussels today (30 January) to represent the UK at talks over steps being taken to improve air quality in line with EU laws.
The minister is one of nine from EU member states to have been summoned for the meeting by Environment Commissioner Karmenu Vella, who has asked for clarification as to how they intend to meet NO2 limit values (see airqualitynews.com story).
Ministers from the Czech Republic, Germany, Spain, France, Italy, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia are also expected to be in attendance at the meeting.
EU legislation on ambient air quality sets air quality limits that cannot be exceeded anywhere in the EU, and obliges Member States to limit the exposure of citizens to harmful air pollutants.
Commenting ahead of the meeting a Defra spokesperson said: “Air pollution has improved significantly since 2010, but we recognise there is more to do which is why we have put in place a £3.5billion plan to improve air quality and reduce harmful emissions.
“We are at the forefront of calls for the EU to introduce Real Driving Emissions testing which is essential in meeting our air quality goals, the first stage of which came in for new models of vehicles in September 2017. We continue to actively engage at a European and international level to tackle air pollution.â€?
Commissioner Karmenu Vella said: “This meeting on air quality has been called for three reasons. To protect citizens. To clarify that if there is no improvement of air quality there are legal consequences. And to remind Member States that this step is at the end of a long, some would say too long, period of offers to help, advice given, and warnings made.
“Our first responsibility as the Commission is to the millions of Europeans – young and old, sick and healthy – who suffer from poor air quality. Parents of a child suffering from bronchitis or a daughter of someone with pulmonary disease want to see improvements in air quality as soon as possible. For them, action plans with a 10-12 year timescale or ineffective plans are useless.â€?
The UK has breached the Directive’s 40 µg/m3 annual mean NO2 limit since targets became legally binding in 2010 – and faced has repeated calls to step up action to achieve compliance.
This includes the potential for infringement proceedings from the European Commission, whilst the government has also had its proposals for addressing air pollution challenged in the courts by the environmental campaign group ClientEarth on three separate occasions.
The latest action includes a Judicial Review challenge over the most recent version of the government’s air quality plan, which instructed councils in more than 20 areas across England put in place measures to bring them into compliance with NO2 limits ‘within the shortest time possible’.
ClientEarth argued in the High Court last week that the plan is not sufficient as there are more than 45 councils which still have illegal levels of NO2 pollution, but have not been instructed to implement any steps to address the issue (see airqualitynews.com story).
Commenting ahead of today’s meeting, Anna Lisa Boni, secretary general of EUROCITIES a local government network which comprises some of the EU’s major cities, called for ministers to agree ‘clear steps’ to be taken to tackle air pollution.
She said: “Today’s ministerial meeting must set out clear and transparent steps to ensure that European air quality targets are met.
“Most cities are doing their part, but we need European and national leaders to live up to their end of the bargain.â€?