UK has breached EU air rules, admits Defra

16th December 2011

Related Topics

Related tags

  • Central government ,
  • EU ,
  • Air ,
  • Pollution & Waste Management



Lawyers acting for the environment department have confirmed for the first time that the UK is breach of its legal obligations to lower air pollution levels

In a high court case brought against the government by environmental activist group ClientEarth, representatives for Defra acknowledged the UK was unable to meet the requirements of EU Directive on air quality (2008/50/EC), which sets limits on the level of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) allowed in the air from 1 January 2010.

Under the Directive, member states can apply for an extension giving them until 2015 to lower pollution levels. However, Defra’s plans to cut NO2 reveal that it does not expect pollution levels to be cut in line with the Directive before 2020 in 17 of the 43 cities and regions affected.

ClientEarth applied to the high court challenging the legality of Defra’s plans and requesting that the government be forced to declare it was in breach of EU legislation.

Following the admission from Defra’s lawyers, Justice Mitting refused to order the government to make a formal declaration saying it would serve no purpose. He also concluded that, while the UK was clearly in breach of the Directive, it was up to the European Commission, not a UK court, to take legal action.

Despite failing to win its case, ClientEarth hailed the hearing as a victory.

“We’re extremely pleased that our case has forced the government to admit that they are failing in their legal duty to protect the British people from the harmful effects of air pollution,” said James Thornton, ClientEarth CEO.

“We had hoped that the issue would be resolved in the UK courts, but following Justice Mitting’s decision we expect the European Commission will launch proceedings against the UK.”

Simon Birkett, founder and director of the Clean Air in London campaign, reacted to the case by calling on European regulators to take action.

"We urge the commission to waste no time in acting on the UK's formal admission and launch infraction action before the Olympic Games," he said.

According to Defra’s plans central London will not meet the NO2 limit until 2025, while cities including Cardiff, Manchester and Birmingham should meet the targets in 2020.


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