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Court orders UK to submit new air quality plans to EU by end of year

Court orders UK  to submit new air quality plans to EU  by end of year

LONDON: The British government must submit new plans to the European Commission by Dec 31 to tackle the harmful air pollutant nitrogen dioxide, the UK Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday.

Environmental law firm ClientEarth brought the case against the government after Britain breached the EU’s Air Quality Directive, which puts limits on harmful air pollutants.

Under the directive, member states were supposed to comply with nitrogen dioxide (NO2) limits in 2010, but could extend that to 2015 if they delivered plans to deal with high levels of the gas, which is produced mainly by diesel engines and causes respiratory illnesses.

UK government data last year showed only five out of a total 43 pollution zones in Britain would comply by 2015, 15 zones by 2020, 38 by 2025 and 40 by 2030. The remaining three zones — Greater London, the West Midlands and West Yorkshire urban areas - will not even comply by 2030, the data showed.

“During the five years of breach, the prospects of early compliance have become worse, not better,” judges said in a court ruling document.

The Supreme Court issued a “mandatory” order which forces the government’s new plans to be prepared to a specific deadline, even if a different government is formed after the May 7 general election.

“The new government, whatever its political complexion, should be left in no doubt as to the need for immediate action to address this issue. The only realistic way to achieve this is a mandatory order requiring new plans (..) to be prepared within a defined timetable,” judges said in the court ruling document.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said work was already underway on revised air quality plans to meet the EU targets as soon as possible, adding that 17 member states including Britain have exceeded the NO2 limits.

Published in Dawn, April 30th, 2015

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