The right to breathe clean air

ClientEarth victory

ClientEarth victory

Yesterday we all won an important battle for the legal right to breathe clean air. The UK Supreme Court has ordered the government to take ‘immediate action’ to reduce nitrogen dioxide levels. Nitrogen dioxide is just one of the thousand or so air borne pollutants routinely measured in London, but it is a good place to start as it plays a major role in much preventable illness and death. Whoever wins the General Election next Thursday will be legally bound to come up with a plan by the end of this year.

The case was brought by ClientEarth. This is an excellent and increasingly influential organisation founded by a group of lawyers only a decade or so ago, and now with offices in London, Brussels and Warsaw, and with a huge pool of legal and scientific expertise to draw upon. Their vision statement is to help create ‘An Earth where people can achieve their full potential within a diverse, resilient biosphere.’

The main source of nitrogen dioxide pollution seems to be diesel engines, mainly in cars, taxis, buses and trucks, but also in ships and some trains. There are a number of other sources of this pollution, but let us focus on transport as it is the main one. Clearly the worst polluting vehicles need to be taken off the road as soon as possible and a national network of low emission zones introduced.

For those of us who own diesel cars this is a challenge. I, along with 40 fellow households in my local community, collectively share the ownership and use of a couple of diesel cars. We selected them in preference to petrol cars because they are slightly better from a climate change point of view, although we were well aware they were slightly worse from a local air pollution point of view. I have always stressed the need to switch to electric or hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. However there are practical difficulties as hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are not yet widely available, and as most of the members of our car share club live in houses where there is only on-street parking recharging of electric vehicles is tricky.

Well done to ClientEarth for winning this case. Clearly the next government has work to do, as do local councils and all of us as we strive to reduce our environmental impact, on the Earth, on each other and upon ourselves.



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