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Bulgarian citizens take state to court over air pollution

A group of six Bulgarian citizens have taken legal action against the authorities over illegal and harmful levels of air pollution in the capital.

The groups will argue that the new air quality plan for Sofia will not reduce levels of air pollution in the city to within legal limits by 2024, as promised by the Sofia municipality.

The citizens claim that the authorities’ failure to address illegal levels of air pollution is a violation of their right to bring clean air.

According to the groups, the plan also fails to clearly outline the measures the city will take to reduce air pollution in the shortest time frame possible, as required by Bulgarian and EU law.

Bulgarian courts have so far refused to recognise the right of citizens and organisations to go to court and appeal air quality plans, as, according to the courts, the effectiveness of these plans does not affect these groups’ rights.

However, the groups say that refusing access to the courts breaches European law.

The challenge, brought in partnership with environmental organisation Za Zemiata and is supported by ClientEarth.

The groups must now wait to see whether they will be granted the right to go to court. If they are, a date for a hearing will then be set.

Ivaylo Hlebarov from Za Zemiata said: ‘The residents of Sofia have been living with dirty air for more than 10 years and have been waiting for a bold plan that finally addresses this health crisis and reduces the thousands of premature deaths linked to polluted air. Unfortunately, the Municipality of Sofia has once again failed to deliver this.

‘Public resources should be used to tackle illegal levels of air pollution quickly and effectively, not wasted on obscure measures, with no tangible way to assess whether they actually work.’

ClientEarth lawyer Agnieszka Warso-Buchanan added: ‘When authorities fail to uphold their duty to protect people’s health, the law should enable people to exercise their right to hold authorities to account. But Bulgarian courts have time and again refused people this right. It’s time that this changes.’

 

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