Court puts more heat on diesels

Nitrogen dioxide in cities is illegally high and the European Court of Justice ruled judges must force ministers to clean up the air as soon as possible.
The pollutant comes almost entirely from diesel vehicles.

The group that brought the case says the government now has no choice but to restrict diesel emissions. They say that could force ministers to order a major retrofit of pollution controls on buses and lorries; ban diesel cars from cities; and install new technology to ensure that diesel cars comply with the emissions data from manufacturers. It’s estimated that 29,000 people die early each year from air pollution in the UK. The government is supposed to have cleaned up nitrogen dioxide pollution in cities by 2015 – but has been proposing to achieve the goal by 2030. Environmentalists are celebrating the European court victory but it causes major political problems for the government.

For many years politicians have encouraged drivers to buy diesel cars because they produce fewer climate-changing CO2 emissions. Friends of the Earth urges ministers to respond by introducing low-emission and congestion charging zones; Scrapping road-building plans, and designing communities with key amenities within easy walking and cycling distance.

ClientEarth’s legal case refers to 16 zones where NO2 limits are being breached. West Midlands, Greater Manchester, West Yorkshire, Teesside, The Potteries, Kingston Upon Hull, Southampton, Glasgow, Eastern England, South East England, East Midlands, North West & Merseyside, Yorkshire & Humberside, West Midlands, North East England and Greater London. The case may be complicated by a review from the new president of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker of pollution laws, which are causing a big problem for many member states.

 (by Roger Harrabin, BBC Environment analyst)

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