After years of failing to meet European air pollution standards, on April 29th, the UK supreme court has ordered the government to act. Air pollution causes tens of thousands of deaths each year and now thanks to a legal challenge by NGO ClientEarth, the UK’s highest court is forcing the government to reduce air pollution levels in London and other British cities.
The court unanimously ruled that the UK has failed to fulfill its nitrogen dioxide (NO2) obligations under EU air quality directive which came into force in 2010. The ruling forces the next environment secretary to draw up a plan to meet the EU rules by the end of 2015. Elections in the UK are scheduled for May 7, 2015.
Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) is a byproduct of diesel vehicles which have proliferated in the UK in recent years due to a favorable taxation policy. Oxford Street reportedly has the highest levels of NO2 in the world. In response London May Boris Johnson proposed a diesel scrapage scheme in 2014.
Mike Hobday, director of policy at the British Heart Foundation, said: “Today’s ruling sends a clear message to the government: they must put plans in place to clean up the UK’s dirty air. The government has a duty to protect public health and ensure the air we breathe is safe – a duty they have so far failed to fulfil.”
Many have criticized the Tory-led government for failing to act on air pollution. Maria Eagle, shadow environment secretary, said: “This supreme court ruling is a damning indictment of the Tory-led government’s total failure to tackle the UK’s air pollution which is causing tens of thousands of early deaths each year.”