The Supreme Court has ruled that the UK government must take immediate action on air pollution.   The judgment was handed down on 29th April, after the case began in the Supreme Court on 16th April. The challenge was brought by environmental lawyer organisation ClientEarth over the government’s failure to meet EU air pollution limits. DEFRA must now develop revised air quality plans by the end of the year.  

This follows the landmark ruling by the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) in November 2014 that DEFRA had breached the 2008 Ambient Air Quality Directive by not expecting to meet legal limits on nitrogen dioxide (NO2) until after 2030. This was the CJEU’s first ever ruling on the effect of the EU’s Air Quality Directive, which establishes a set of legal limits and target dates for reducing air pollutants.  

The case is the culmination of a four-year battle for ClientEarth in both the UK and EU courts. The Supreme Court notes that, during the five years in which the UK has been in breach of the law, “the prospects of early compliance have become worse, not better”. The European Commission will take its own separate infringement action against the UK for breaching the air quality directive.  

Under current government plans, three areas of the UK – Greater London, West Midlands and West Yorkshire urban areas – are not expected to meet legal limits for nitrogen dioxide until after 2030. This is 20 years later than the original EU legal deadline. The projections also show that 5 of 43 UK zones will be compliant by 2015, 15 zones by 2020, 38 by 2025 and 40 out of 43 by 2030.   The judgement of the case comes as the World Health Organization published a report stating the health impacts and mortality from air pollution cost Europe £1.03 trillion in 2010.

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