The UK’s failure to meet EU limits on nitrogen dioxide must be tackled after the Supreme Court ruled in case brought by Client Earth.
London’s air quality has for many years fallen below the minimum standards set by the European Union.
But now the court has ruled that the Government must formulate new plans on cutting air pollution as a matter of urgency.
Nitrogen dioxide is a gas that can cause breathing difficulties in vulnerable people, such as asthma and older adults, and can stunt the proper growth of lung function in children.
It is a by-product of diesel vehicle engines, which now make up more than a third of the UK’s fleet.
Under the EU’s air quality directive, strict limits are set on the concentrations of nitrogen dioxide in the atmosphere that are permissible.
The limits came into force five years ago, on January 1, 2010, but there was a provision that member states could stave off the imposition of the ruling until the beginning of this year, if they could show that they had an action plan in place to deal with the problem.
In a case brought by Client Earth, a non-governmental organisation involved in seeking legal redress over environmental issues, the Supreme Court was asked to rule on whether the Government had fulfilled its obligations to meeting the air pollution rules.
The panel of five judges ordered that “the Government must prepare and consult on new air quality plans for submission to the European commission no later than 31 December 2015”.
The outcome of the ruling means the government can be challenged for its failure to ensure that concentrations of nitrogen dioxide meet agreed EU limits.
A Defra spokesman 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.”
The British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association (BVRLA) has produced a five-point strategy that would help the next Government tackle the problem of road transport-based air pollution.
The BVRLA believes that the following five measures could make a swift and significant impact on NO2 levels across the UK:
- Help regional authorities to use their newly devolved transport powers by providing a national framework for ultra-low emission zones
- Adopt the current tax regime to cover NO2 emissions (incentivising the adoption of new EURO 6 standard for diesel engine emissions, for example), ensuring that any changes are well-signposted and non-retrospective
- Re-introduce 100% first-year allowances for companies renting or leasing ultra-low emission cars
- Provide better in-life incentives - for example freedom from tolls, congestion charges or parking fees – to encourage greater uptake of ultra-low emission vehicles
- Do more to support car clubs, car sharing and other alternatives to car ownership, and provide more low-emission public transport
“Over the past ten years our industry has used the government’s emissions-based motoring tax regime to stimulate a huge reduction in CO2 emissions,” said BVRLA chief executive, Gerry Keaney.
“Our members advise millions of businesses and consumers on which vehicles to choose and how they should be operated.
“We believe the measures we have set out could have a significant and positive impact in helping the government meet its air quality goals.”
BVRLA members own and operate nearly four million cars, vans and trucks, accounting for more than 10% of the vehicles on UK roads.
The vehicle rental and leasing industry has played a leading role in driving down emissions. The average leased or rental car on fleet in 2014 emitted just 122g/km CO2, which was 22% less than the average CO2 emissions for the general car parc (156.6g/km).
For more on the court's decision and its potential impact on fleets, see the next edition of Fleet News.