Supreme Court orders UK Government to slash pollution
The UK is in breach of European air quality standards and must draw up plans to reduce the amount of nitrogen dioxide in the atmosphere, the Supreme Court has ruled.
Nitrogen dioxide is mainly produced by diesel vehicles and can cause breathing difficulties for children, older people and asthmatics.
The five Supreme Court judges ruled unanimously that "the Government must prepare and consult on new air quality plans for submission to the European Commission ... no later than December 31 2015".
Announcing the decision, judge Lord Carnwath said: "The new government, whatever its political complexion, should be left in no doubt as to the need for immediate action to address this issue."
Air pollution causes 29,000 premature deaths a year in the UK - more than obesity and alcohol combined. The World Health Organisation claims the UK could save £53bn a year if pollution levels dropped.
International NGO Greenpeace welcomed the ruling, adding that the public wanted to see politicians do more for the environment.
Greenpeace UK policy director Doug Parr said: "Systematic failure on air pollution means we need better plans to stop fuel burning in city centres from impacting our health and well-being.
"A UN report says that air pollution costs nearly 10% of European GDP, and in comparison, the economic discussions in the election campaign have been concerning themselves with minor economic details whilst this vast un-discussed failure affects millions of UK residents."
A spokesperson for Defra said: "Air quality has improved significantly in recent years and as this judgement recognises, work is already underway on revised plans to meet EU targets on NO2 as soon as possible.
"It has always been the government's position to submit these plans before the end of this year. Meeting NO2 limits is a common challenge across Europe with 17 member states exceeding limits."