EU must rule on UK air quality breaches

1st June 2012

Related Topics

Related tags

  • Central government ,
  • EU ,
  • Prevention & Control ,
  • Air



A campaign to have the government's plans for combating nitrous dioxide pollution ruled illegal in the UK has failed, despite Defra admitting that its strategy does breach EU legislation

The Court of Appeal has ruled that it is the European Commission’s responsibility to take action against the UK for breaching the EU Directive on air quality (2008/50/EC), and not the UK courts, rejecting the case brought by environmental activist group ClientEarth.

The group launched a legal challenge against environment secretary Caroline Spelman last year, after Defra published plans to cut nitrous dioxide (NO2) levels that would see the UK breach the air quality Directive for at least five years.

The Directive, which, from 1 January 2010, set limits on the level of NO2 allowed in the air, allows member states to apply for an extension giving them until 2015 to lower pollution levels. However, Defra’s plans to cut NO2 state that pollution levels are unlikely to be cut in line with the Directive before 2020 in 17 of the 43 cities and regions affected.

In a High Court hearing last December, lawyers acting for Defra acknowledged that the UK was unable to meet the requirements of the Directive for NO2. However, despite concluding that the UK was clearly in breach of its legal obligations Justice Mitting ruled that it was a case for the European courts.

Reacting to the Court of Appeal’s decision to uphold Justice Mitting’s ruling James Thornton, ClientEarth CEO, spoke of his disappointment.

“We had hoped this could have been dealt with domestically,” he said. “The government should not be allowed to avoid their responsibilities and should instead begin working to help those communities worst affected. Their own estimates show that the UK won’t meet legal air quality standards until 2025, but while 29,000 people die prematurely every year this simply isn’t good enough.”

“The UK now only has two months before the Olympics, and potentially faces the European Commission acting within that timeframe. It could be severely embarrassing for the ‘greenest government ever’.”

In February, Defra responsed to an environmental audit committee's report on air quality arguing that the costs of meeting the EU NO2 targets may outweigh the potential benefits.

“There was never an intention for any of the [EU] deadlines to force measures that would impose disproportionate costs on society. Deadlines for attainment of limit values must reflect both the availability of measures and the affordability of implementation relative to the benefits,” stated Defra.


Subscribe to IEMA's newsletters to receive timely articles, expert opinions, event announcements, and much more, directly in your inbox.

Transform articles

Fifth of UK food firms unprepared for deforestation regulation

One in five UK food businesses are not prepared for EU Deforestation Regulation (EUDR) coming into force in December, a new survey has uncovered.

16th May 2024

Read more

Regulatory gaps between the EU and UK are beginning to appear, warns Neil Howe in this edition’s environmental legislation round-up

4th April 2024

Read more

Dr Julie Riggs issues a call to arms to tackle a modern-day human tragedy

15th March 2024

Read more

The UK’s new biodiversity net gain (BNG) requirements could create 15,000 hectares of woodlands, heath, grasslands, and wetlands and absorb 650,000 tonnes of carbon each year.

13th March 2024

Read more

Campaign group Wild Justice has accused the UK government of trying to relax pollution rules for housebuilders “through the backdoor”.

14th February 2024

Read more

Digital tracking, packaging data delays and new collections provide a waste focus for this edition’s environmental round-up by legislation expert Neil Howe

28th November 2023

Read more

Environmental crimes could result in prison sentences of up to 10 years and company fines of 5% of turnover under a proposed EU law agreed by the European parliament and council.

21st November 2023

Read more

Media enquires

Looking for an expert to speak at an event or comment on an item in the news?

Find an expert

IEMA Cookie Notice

Clicking the ‘Accept all’ button means you are accepting analytics and third-party cookies. Our website uses necessary cookies which are required in order to make our website work. In addition to these, we use analytics and third-party cookies to optimise site functionality and give you the best possible experience. To control which cookies are set, click ‘Settings’. To learn more about cookies, how we use them on our website and how to change your cookie settings please view our cookie policy.

Manage cookie settings

Our use of cookies

You can learn more detailed information in our cookie policy.

Some cookies are essential, but non-essential cookies help us to improve the experience on our site by providing insights into how the site is being used. To maintain privacy management, this relies on cookie identifiers. Resetting or deleting your browser cookies will reset these preferences.

Essential cookies

These are cookies that are required for the operation of our website. They include, for example, cookies that enable you to log into secure areas of our website.

Analytics cookies

These cookies allow us to recognise and count the number of visitors to our website and to see how visitors move around our website when they are using it. This helps us to improve the way our website works.

Advertising cookies

These cookies allow us to tailor advertising to you based on your interests. If you do not accept these cookies, you will still see adverts, but these will be more generic.

Save and close