Air Clean Up

  • Why is the UK Government Being Sued over Air Pollution Plans?

Why is the UK Government Being Sued over Air Pollution Plans?

May 20 2016 Read 1154 Times

The environmental law firm Client Earth are taking the Conservative government to the Supreme Court for a second time to challenge its latest set of plans to address the exorbitant levels of pollution in London and other areas of the UK.

The news comes just one year after the government lost another court case against the firm in May 2015, when authorities deemed governmental plans to curb pollution levels were wholly insufficient. Despite being ordered to fulfil its legal obligation to bring air quality levels to a safe threshold, the government has dragged its feet on the topic.

A Long-Standing Problem

As far back as 2009, the government came under fire for its half-hearted attempts to improve air quality and reduce transport-related pollution, with campaigners claiming that the Tories were "making a mockery" of efforts to address the situation.

In 2010, the UK government failed to comply with EU regulations on air quality levels in London and several other cities, and despite making the right noises, the country has fallen afoul of the rules in each of the intervening five years. Such non-compliance has not only cost Britain millions of pounds in fines and fees, it also endangers the lives of thousands of the country’s residents.

It’s estimated that air pollution causes up to 50,000 deaths across the nation each year, with approximately £20 billion of taxpayer’s money going towards the issue. In response to the court ruling, the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) published a plan to tackle rising levels of pollution last year.

“Our plans clearly set out how we will improve the UK’s air quality through a new programme of Clean Air Zones, which alongside national action and continued investment in clean technologies will create cleaner, healthier air for all. We cannot comment on ongoing legal proceedings,” said a DEFRA spokeswoman.

What the Critics Say

Despite DEFRA’s bullish defence of their proposed measures, MPs, environmentalists and other critics have been swift in their condemnation. Here is what some of the more prominent figures on the scene had to say:

  • Alan Andrews, lawyer for Client Earth: “The government’s new plans to tackle air pollution are woefully inadequate and won’t achieve legal limits for years to come. The longer they are allowed to dither and delay, the more people will suffer from serious illness or an early death.”
  • Mary McCreagh, MP for Wakefield and Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee: “The government has dragged its feet on tackling air pollution and that is simply not good enough. It is about time the government set out a clear, comprehensive plan to go much further, much faster.”
  • Kerry McCarthy, Shadow Environment Secretary: “There is clear consensus that the government’s plans are wholly inadequate to address this public health crisis. It should not take legal action to force the environment secretary to take urgent action and help save lives.”
  • Penny Woods, British Lung Foundation chief executive: “This is the second time the government has been taken to court over air pollution. They must now take immediate action to prevent people being needlessly killed by the air they breathe. Air pollution affects everyone [and] it has greatest impact on the most vulnerable – children, the elderly, and those with lung conditions.”

Among other measures, campaigners and MPs are calling on to the government to ban older and more polluting vehicles, give cities greater power to impose fees on dirtier cars and bring about reduced emissions from farms.

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