The European Court of Justice (ECJ) has taken notice of the worsening air pollution at the United Kingdom and five other countries. The ECJ is Europe’s highest court and is authorized to penalize countries that have not addressed their respective problems on pollution. The U.K and the five nations have been charged before the ECJ by the European Commission and could face multimillion euros worth of fines for failure to reduce pollution levels.
In addition to Europe, the five other countries are France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, and Romania. The U.K. and these nations were issued their final warnings from the European commission in January. According to studies, air pollution has contributed to the deaths of an estimated 40,000 people in Europe every year.
Among the worst offenders are diesel- powered vehicles which account for the massive amounts of nitrogen dioxide. Most of the illegal levels of nitrogen dioxide were seen at the U.K’s urban areas. A proposed air pollution plan in 2017 was widely criticized by local officials and members of the medical and science communities.
Karmenu Vella, European Commissioner for the Environment, said the ECJ’s patience has run its course with the U.K and the other nations:
“We have waited a long time and we cannot possibly wait any longer. We have said that this commission is one that protects. Our decision follows through on that claim. It is my conviction that today’s decision will lead to improvements for citizens on a much quicker timescale.”
In contrast, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Spain submitted pollution control measures which were approved by the European Commission after receiving their final warnings last January.
James Thornton, CEO of ClientEarth, believes the decision sends a strong message to the U.K. and other European countries:
“On top of our three successful cases, today’s legal action from the European Commission is more damning evidence of the mountain the U.K. government still has to climb to bring air pollution within legal limits.”
Dr. Maria Neira, Director of Public Health for the World Health Organization, said that tackling air pollution should be the priority of the European countries:
“While air pollution knows no borders and puts everyone at risk, those most vulnerable – pregnant women, children, the elderly, those already ill or poor – are particularly affected.”
For their part, a spokesman for U.K’s environment department issued a statement that the country continues to meet the requirements of the Commission on limits for air pollutants:
“We continue to meet EU air quality limits for all pollutants apart from NO2, and data shows we are improving thanks to our efforts to bring levels of NO2 down. We will shortly build on our GBP 3.5 Billion plan to tackle roadside emissions with a comprehensive clean air strategy.”