If the UK doesn’t take control and curb ‘persistent breaches’ of air pollution, the European Commission will take the matter to the European Court of Justice.
Dubbed a ‘final warning’, the European Commission has given the UK two months to show progress or face penalties ordered by the court.
Germany, France, Spain and Italy have also been served warnings and history suggests legal action is a very real threat – infringement cases have already been brought against 12 member states.
Experts estimate that 40,000 people suffer premature deaths in the UK as a result of air pollutants, specifically nitrogen dioxide.
Nitrogen dioxide inflames the lining of the lungs and reduces immunity to infection. Wheezing, coughing and bronchitis are all effects of excess nitrogen dioxide among other air pollutants.The UK government argues that it is already ‘fully committed’ to improving air quality in cities across the country.
The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs claims that more than £2 billion has been committed to generating greener transport schemes and promote the use of ultra-low emissions vehicles.
More recently, in response to the Supreme Court’s ruling that the government must comply with European limits on air pollution, the government revealed plans to create ‘clean air zones’.
Birmingham, Leeds, Nottingham, Derby and Southampton will all host such zones in which older cars are restricted and electric cars are given preferential treatment. The same rules will apply for buses, taxis and lorries that emit high levels of nitrogen dioxide.
However, many support the European Commission’s assertion that the current measures being taken to tackle unclean air simply aren’t enough.
For example, diesel cars are most culpable for the emission of nitrogen dioxide but little action has been taken to moderate their use.
Environmental charity, Friends of the Earth has called on the government to act by enforcing policy to abolish diesel cars by 2025 and until then, ensure they are subject to heavier tax.
The British Lung Foundation also emphasises the role diesel cars play: ‘Scrappage incentive schemes will help drivers to move to cleaner vehicles, without being financially penalised.’
With the European Commission closing the net, the pressure is well and truly on for the government to keep city dwellers safe by reducing air pollution.