Brussels’ air quality failings ‘exposed’ at EU Court of Justice

Five Brussels residents, with support from ClientEarth, moved a step closer to forcing the Belgian government to act on air pollution in the city following a hearing at the EU’s top court yesterday (January 10).

In an intervention during the hearing before the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU), lawyers from the European Commission ‘exposed’ the Brussels government’s attempts to dodge its obligation to adopt an air quality plan, according to a statement from ClientEarth.

They stated that the Brussels government’s attempt to use averages to assess whether the city is breaching legal levels of air pollution, rather than actual readings at single monitoring stations, has ‘no basis’ in EU law and has never been used by any other European authority.

Reacting to the hearing, ClientEarth lawyer Ugo Taddei said: ‘Today was a crucial moment in our battle to ensure clean air for all of Brussels’ residents. It is clear that the regional government can no longer pull the wool over the eyes of its citizens and avoid dealing with this health crisis.

‘The Brussels government is beginning to recognise it can and must do more and we hope today’s hearing will encourage them to take ambitious action now instead of waiting for a court order.’

The advocate general, an independent advisor of the Court, announced that she will deliver her opinion on 21 February 2019. A ruling from the CJEU is expected shortly after.

In December, The European Court of Justice ordered the European Commission to overturn a decision that allowed car manufacturers to exceed emission limits during road tests.

Brussels, Paris and Madrid had challenged a provision amending the emission limits within the Commission’s new Real Driving Emissions (RDE) test.

The test was initially aimed at addressing the ‘Dieselgate’ scandal, but was undermined by a rule allowing vehicles to emit more than double the emission limit for oxides of nitrogen (NOx) until 2021, which had been called the ‘conformity factor’.