In a landmark ruling today, the European Court of Justice has confirmed that we have a right to breathe clean air and that the UK is breaching this right. [1]

Last year, environmental law campaigners ClientEarth sued the UK Government for failing to meet clean air limits for a 2010 European deadline. [2] EU law requires member states which failed to meet air quality limits by the 2010 deadline to draw up plans to achieve the limits in the “shortest time possible.” But under the plans submitted to Europe, compliance is not expected until 2020 and 2025 in Edinburgh and Glasgow. [3]

The UK Supreme Court found the UK Government to be in breach of EU Law but referred the case on to the Court of Justice of the European Union, seeking further guidance on a number of issues, including whether the UK was allowed an extension to the original deadline. The Supreme Court has confirmed that Member States were obliged to meet the 2010 deadline and that the maximum extension to the deadline was for five years.

The case will now return to UK for Supreme Court judges to apply the European ruling to the facts in the UK case.

Emilia Hanna, Air Pollution campaigner for Friends of the Earth Scotland said,

“Today’s ruling from the European Court clarifies that governments are under a strict obligation not to exceed air pollution limits and that the 2010 deadline can only be exceeded by a maximum of five years. But we know that in Scotland, Glasgow and Edinburgh are not expected to achieve compliance before 2025 and 2020. This ruling sends a strong signal to the Scottish Government to produce a fully funded, robust Low Emission Strategy as soon as possible.”

Yesterday, the Scottish Government confirmed that a draft Low Emission Strategy for Scotland will be published before the year, almost a year later than originally promised. [4]

“Although we cannot see it, air pollution in our cities kills the equivalent of 2000 people every year. That’s more than ten times the number of people that die in road traffic accidents. Traffic fumes are full of toxic chemicals which increase the chances of lung cancer, heart attacks, strokes, and early death. [5]

“If Scotland does not act now, a baby born today in Glasgow will have to wait until their 11th birthday until their air is safe to breathe. This is a scandal, especially because we know children’s development is damaged through exposure to air pollution.”

“As the Draft Budget for next year stands, the Scottish Government plans to spend over 200 times as much money on new roads and motorways as on tackling air pollution. [6]

“The Scottish Government is showing signs of taking this issue seriously by drawing up a Strategy to clean up air, but as it stands the Strategy is unfunded and running behind schedule. We cannot afford to wait. When it is published, the Strategy needs to include:

– A clear commitment to a date before 2020 by which Scottish cities will have clean air
– A Framework to roll out Ultra Low Emission Zones in cities across Scotland, so that cars, LGVs, HGVs and buses
– Targets to increase the number of journeys taken by public transport, walking, and cycling
– Additional funding for local authorities to be able to implement Low Emission Zones, improve walking and cycling infrastructure, and retrofit or upgrade bus fleets.


Note to Editors

[1] The European Court Summary is at http://foe-scotland.us2.list-manage.com/track/click?u=b5ad0d61b2a67d22c6…. ClientEarth’s press release is at http://foe-scotland.us2.list-manage.com/track/click?u=b5ad0d61b2a67d22c6…

Key points from today’s ruling:

As regards nitrogen dioxide, the EU Ambient Air Quality Directive provides that the limit values ‘may not be exceeded’, which amounts to an obligation.
The 2010 deadline can only be delayed by a maximum of 5 years, and Member States must make a full application for an extension to the deadline
Where the deadline has not been achieved and no application for postponement has been made, Member States must produce an air quality plan that sets out appropriate measures so that the period during which the 2010 deadline is exceeded can be kept as short as possible. However, the mere fact that such a plan has been established does not mean that the Member State concerned has entirely satisfied its obligations under the directive.
If a Member State has not properly applied for an extension to the deadline and has not produced an appropriate plan, then it is for the national court, should a case be brought before it, to take, with regard to the national authority, any necessary measure, such as an order in the appropriate terms, so that the authority establishes the plan required by the directive to ensure, in particular, that the period during which the limit values are exceeded is as short as possible.

[2] For more information on ClientEarth’s lawsuit against the UK Government for air pollution, see http://foe-scotland.us2.list-manage.com/track/click?u=b5ad0d61b2a67d22c6…

[3] See Friends of the Earth Scotland’s press work,”Streets Still Polluted as Scotland will Miss Clean Air Deadline by over a Decade”, http://foe-scotland.us2.list-manage2.com/track/click?u=b5ad0d61b2a67d22c…

[4] See Friends of the Earth Scotland Press Release of 18 November 2014, “Low Emissions Strategy – continued failure to tackle air pollution will result in unnecessary deaths”: http://foe-scotland.us2.list-manage.com/track/click?u=b5ad0d61b2a67d22c6… and Scotsman coverage: http://foe-scotland.us2.list-manage.com/track/click?u=b5ad0d61b2a67d22c6…

[5] Health impacts of air pollution:
– Air pollution from fine particles (PM2.5) is responsible for an equivalent of over 2000 deaths each year in Scotland, according to research by Public Health England: http://foe-scotland.us2.list-manage.com/track/click?u=b5ad0d61b2a67d22c6…. The Scottish figures are in Table 3.
172 people died in road traffic accidents in 2013: http://foe-scotland.us2.list-manage1.com/track/click?u=b5ad0d61b2a67d22c…
In 2013 the WHO’s specialized cancer agency, the IARC, classified the cocktail of air pollution as carcinogenic to humans and named it as a leading cause of cancer deaths: http://foe-scotland.us2.list-manage.com/track/click?u=b5ad0d61b2a67d22c6…
In January 2014, research from a European study found that long-term exposure to small and fine particles (PM10 and PM2.5) increases the risk heart attacks and unstable angina: http://foe-scotland.us2.list-manage1.com/track/click?u=b5ad0d61b2a67d22c…
Ambient air pollution has also been linked with restricted foetal growth in European countries, which is linked with adverse respiratory health in childhood: http://foe-scotland.us2.list-manage.com/track/click?u=b5ad0d61b2a67d22c6… 2600(13)70192-9/abstract
Air pollution across the UK as a whole costs the NHS between £8.5 billion and £20.2 billion a year: Defra, The Air Quality Strategy for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland (July 2007)

[6] The detailed draft budget for 2015-16 allocates £3.15 million to improving air quality compared with £694.8 million to motorways and trunk roads infrastructure.

[7] Friends of the Earth Scotland is

* Scotland’s leading environmental campaigning organisation
* An independent Scottish charity with a network of thousands of supporters and active local groups across Scotland
* Part of the largest grassroots environmental network in the world, uniting over 2 million supporters, 74 national member groups, and some 5,000 local activist groups. www.foe-scotland.org.uk