ClientEarth: UK Government should come clean on dirty air

Environmental law firm ClientEarth has challenged UK government air pollution projections in light of new research that finds diesel cars are releasing six times more dangerous pollutants on the road than in factory testing.

The firm has asked the Government to “come clean” on whether it has re-run its air pollution projections, factoring in new research by ClientEarth and the Department for Transport (DfT) about vastly-underestimated diesel vehicle emissions.

ClientEarth claims that the current clean air projections are based upon “fantasy data” – casting doubt on the adequacy of the Government’s clean air plans. It has sent an environmental information request to Defra asking it to reveal the methodology used to arrive at the latest data on how long UK residents will be required to breathe illegal levels of air pollution.

“The latest evidence confirms what we knew all along – the newest diesel cars are emitting on average six times the legal limit when driving on Britain’s roads,” said ClientEarth lawyer Alan Andrews. “This leaves Defra’s plan for tackling air quality in tatters.”

’Reality check’

The Government’s predictions currently state that most areas of the UK will be compliant with legal air pollution levels by 2020. However, ClientEarth suggests these estimations might be “years out”.

If the ClientEarth and DfT data about diesel vehicle emissions is correct, the Government will need to undertake a more ”ambitious and comprehensive plan” in order to lower the UK’s air pollutant levels to within legal limits.

Andrews added: “We think that far more towns and cities will still be breaching air pollution limits in 2020 than the six in the Government’s rose-tinted projections. This is 10 years after the deadline. Every year that goes by, thousands more people will needlessly suffer sickness and early death from breathing illegal and harmful levels of air pollution.

“That’s why we have submitted an information request to see if the Government has had a reality check and rerun their projections. If it has, this will show the need for a much more ambitious and comprehensive plan to tackle air pollution across the country, not just in a handful of cities.

“We want the new Government to immediately commit to introducing a national network of ’clean air zones’ which phase out the use of diesel in our most polluted towns and cities. This needs to be backed by a range of measures to make sure the government and industry support the phase out financially and the ordinary motorist isn’t left with a huge bill.”

Clean Air Courts

Meanwhile, ClientEarth has this week submitted its response to the Government’s claims regarding an upcoming court case. The law firm will be taking Defra back to court on 18-19 October on the case of Defra’s “completely inadequate” plans to tackle NO2 levels in the UK.

The firm recently won a separate case against the Government after challenging it’s ”failure’ to meet the previous legal clean air deadlines”. ClientEarth is pursuing other clean air cases across Europe, including a clean air case against the German Government, in which it was ruled that drastic measures would be needed to tackle illegal air pollution levels, such as restricting diesel vehicle access in towns and city centres.

In related air quality news today (25 August), a new study has mapped the hotspots of New York’s air pollution based on where people gather for work or recreation, discovering that the true impact of air pollution has been obscured by the failure to consider people’s exposure as they move around during the day.

Defra was contacted by edie but has not responded at the time of publication.


Alex Baldwin

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