Supreme Court may force UK Government to take action on air pollution

It is difficult enough to understand, implement and maintain legal compliance with some environmental regulations, when you are a SME (Small and Medium Sized Enterprise) but what if you are a Government, used to making laws but, no necessarily having to comply with them.

Last week, we found that the United Kingdom Government is that position of being reminded of its obligations by an environmental NGO (Non-Governmental Organisation) taking a legal challenge though the Supreme Court.

ClientEarth, an environmental campaigning group, have brought a case against the UK Government based on the argument that the Government has a legal duty to comply with European Union timescales and its current plan to reduce pollution is entirely insufficient. Additionally, the Government has known that air pollution from nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and particulates now kill as many people each year in Britain as obesity and road accidents combined and potentially failed to take the required actions.

Air pollution
Air pollution

According to reports, the Governmental legal team will claim that Britain is under no legal obligation to meet air pollution time limits set by Brussels and that it is also impossible to meet the targets. Under its current air-quality plans, London will not meet its legal limit to reduce NO2 pollution until 2025 with most other urban regions and cities, including Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds and Glasgow, will not comply until 2020.

This case is particularly important because it could allow the Government to delay the implementation of many other EU environment laws and directives or could see the UK being brought into line with European Union limits. It is especially timely as, currently, there are government warnings that toxic air pollution has been at “moderate to high” levels across much of England and Wales this week, including London, York, Manchester, Liverpool, Swansea, Bristol and other cities.

In response to the Government’s claims, Alan Andrews of ClientEarth, said:

“The fact that the Government’s plans won’t achieve compliance with air-quality standards until 2025 is a disgrace. It thinks that laws that are in place to save lives are “red tape”. That’s why they are refusing to act to tackle air pollution, while at the same time they are lobbying the EU to get the laws weakened.” and added “The Government is on the wrong side of the science, and on the wrong side of the law. We need the Supreme Court to step in and force it to live up to its legal and moral duty to protect us from air pollution.”

It will be interesting to follow this case, not only from a legal point of view but whether the Government can balance its legal obligations under European Union law and its current political direction with the rights of its citizen’s to clean air and a healthy life.

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