UCF Global Perspectives


British Supreme Court Rules Air Pollution Standards Subpar

Alex Gañán, Intern, Environment and Global Climate Change

November 4, 2016

A ruling from the British Supreme Court earlier this week deemed the United Kingdom’s air pollution reduction efforts as inadequate. Last year, the Supreme Court ordered the government to develop an air pollution management plan that complied with European Union regulations. The EU standards, known as the Air Quality Directive, required member states work to reduce nitrogen dioxide emissions within areas identified as pollution zones by 2030. Since then, it has deemed the measures taken as insufficient, relying heavily on “over-optimistic” projections to lowball emission standards. The court cited reports that a projected 38 out of only 43 pollution zones would reach acceptable levels by 2025; three zones, including Greater London, would fail to reach its target entirely (Reuters).

The ruling coincides with parliament’s approval of a controversial third runway at London Heathrow Airport; critics are concerned this will only worsen smog in Greater London among other things (Sydney Morning Herald). The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, lambasted parliamentary inaction regarding air pollution in the wake of the ruling. Mayor Khan said the “[blame laid] at the door of the government for its complacency in failing to tackle the problem.” Internal documents cited during the case revealed Treasury efforts to block attempts at charging diesel vehicles entering pollution zones, as stipulated by the directive. These efforts were driven by fear of political ramifications from irate motorists. Other documents revealed the target dates selected were not in consideration of how quickly targets could be met, but rather when they would risk incurring EU fines (The Guardian).



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