London court orders action on air pollution

Severe air pollution over London on the 30th of April 2014. Photo credit David Holt via Flickr.
By Anders Lorenzen

Air quality campaigners and health organisations are celebrating after the Supreme Court in London has ordered UK cities to clean up its air. The case was brought by the environmental law firm ClientEarth, who has fought a long running battle to clean up the UK’s air for the last five years.The ruling demands that the UK government, which took office on the 8th of May forms tough and effective policies to combat air pollution.


Air pollution has been described as the invisible killer, and ClientEarth lawyer Alan Andrews says that air pollution kills tens of thousands of people in the UK each year. Diesel powered engines, which once were being singled out as a much cleaner alternative than petrol powered cars, are now being blamed for a large portion of air pollution. Diesel cars create high, and illegal levels of Nitrogen Dioxide found in many UK cities.


The charity The British Heart Foundation (BHF) has welcomed the ruling saying that exposure to high levels of air pollution can exacerbate existing heart conditions, increase the risk of heart attack and of hospitalisation or death from stroke. According to BHF the UK has been breaching legal limits for Nitrogen Dioxide since 2010 in 16 different cities and regions. They go even further than ClientEarth, and said research suggests that in the UK as many as 35,000 to 50,000 people could die prematurely each year as a result of short term exposure to air pollution. Though the ruling will benefit everyone, it will be especially beneficial to children, older people and those with existing health conditions like asthma, heart and lung conditions.


ClientEarth says that due to the ruling the UK government must start a comprehensive plan to tackle air pollution as soon as possible. That plan should include the creation of a national network of low emission zones, implementation of congestion charging zones, and other economic incentives.


Though we are used to hearing about serious levels of air pollution in China’s major cities, and other cities in the developing world, there has been serious air pollution issues in London too. This has prompted a warning from the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, urging vulnerable people to stay indoors on bad air pollution days. Air quality campaigners have argued that Mr. Johnson has not done enough to address air quality issues.

Related news:

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Air pollution in Europe has high economic and human cost

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