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Client Earth launches new air pollution legal action

Car's exhaust pipe

Client Earth is taking legal action against the UK Government for a third time over what it claims is its persistent failure to deal with illegal air pollution across the country.

The move comes just a year after Client Earth’s High Court victory forced ministers to develop plans to tackle the problem.

The environmental law organisation said the plans still fell far short of what was needed to bring air pollution to within legal limits as soon as possible.

Client Earth CEO James Thornton said: “The UK Government’s stubborn failure to tackle illegal and harmful levels of pollution in this country means that we have no choice but to take legal action. We need clarity from the government and for that we’ve been forced to go back to court.”

Client Earth’s grounds for judicial review are:

  • The latest plan backtracks on previous commitments to order five cities to introduce 'clean air zones' by 2020.
  • The plan does not require any action in 45 local authorities in England, despite them having illegal levels of air pollution.
  • The plan does not require any action by Wales to bring down air pollution as quickly as possible.

Client Earth understands that Leicester City Council, as well as Oxford City Council have written to the government raising doubts about the plans. These include claims that the Government has seriously underestimated pollution levels in their cities and excluded them from access to essential support to fight the problem.

In order to avoid any further delay to ongoing work by Defra, DfT and local authorities, Client Earth is not calling for the current plan to be overturned, but instead to be supplemented.

Client Earth names the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Transport Secretary and the Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Rural Affairs in the Welsh Government as defendants.

Thornton added: “This is a national problem that requires a national solution. The Government’s own evidence shows that we need a national network of charging clean air zones, which will keep the dirtiest vehicles out of the most polluted areas of our towns and cities, so why aren’t drivers being prepared for it? It’s time ministers came clean about the size of the problem and the difficult decisions needed to solve it.”

“The Government should be helping people and small businesses move to cleaner forms of transport. We need fiscal policies to drive a shift away from dirty diesel, so November’s Budget will be a litmus test of the Government’s resolve.

“The car industry helped get us into this mess so they should be helping get us out of it by contributing to a clean air fund, as they have done in Germany.”   

In Germany, the government recently secured €250 million from the car industry towards a fund to help German cities – where Client Earth has been involved in a number of legal challenges – to reduce pollution. 


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