Government under pressure on air quality standards

Air quality is a hot topic at the moment with vehicle emissions often in the news headlines.

Air quality is a hot topic at the moment with vehicle emissions often in the news headlines. From a legal standpoint, there are specific obligations that are driving the news and political agendas.

Pursuant to the Air Quality Directive 2008, the UK was meant to have achieved certain air quality standards or in default of achieving those standards was meant to submit a plan detailing how it would meet those standards.

Needless to say, the UK did not achieve the standards and was late in publishing its plan. When it did finally publish its plan, the plan was felt to be deficient and subject to challenge by the NGO ClientEarth. To date, ClientEarth has challenged the plan nine times in the courts and the Government has had to issue three different versions. The latest version of the plan published on 28 July 2017 is also felt to be deficient and many commentators expect a further challenge from ClientEarth in the coming months.

Alongside this, another NGO, Plan B, has written to Greg Clark, Secretary of State for BEIS, asking how the current policy instruments and legal tools will enable the UK to achieve the CO2 reduction targets provided for in the Climate Change Act 2008 (50% reduction against a 1990 baseline by 2030 and an 80% reduction by 2050). The Committee on Climate Change (established pursuant to the Act) has also been voicing its concerns for some time. Plan B’s letter is thought to be a precursor to a formal legal challenge of the Government’s approach.

A similar challenge of Dutch Government policy by a Dutch NGO, Urgenda, resulted in the Dutch courts directing the Dutch Government to up its game and introduce revised policy and legislation. Might we see the same in the UK? Quite possibly.

This is alongside a number of reported group actions against the Government in relation to personal injury claims by those who allege their health has suffered as a result of the Government’s failure to tackle air pollution.

Although Brexit might mean we lose part of the regulatory framework that imposes controls in relation to air pollution, it seems NGOs are going to work hard to fill any gaps that are left and to compel the Government to act.

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