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ClientEarth Communications

9th January 2019

Air pollution

ClientEarth heads to top EU court to defend Brussels residents’ right to clean air

ClientEarth and five local residents will take their air pollution case against the Brussels regional government to the EU’s top court on Thursday, 10 January 2019.

Both parties will present their arguments to the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) following a request from the Brussels judge in the case.

After a hearing in November 2017, the Court of First Instance of Brussels asked for further guidance from the CJEU before making a final decision. However, it has already warned the authorities that the existing air quality plan for Brussels does not comply with minimum legal requirements.

ClientEarth lawyer Ugo Taddei said: “The hearing will be a key moment in our battle to defend the rights of Brussels’ citizens, as the CJEU will clarify the remaining questions the national court needs to reach a judgment.

“Meanwhile, the pressure is building for the Brussels government to take ambitious strides to address the city’s air quality crisis. If it is serious about protecting the health of its citizens, then it should act on the recent data that show that the current measures have been ineffective and insufficient to tackle this issue.

“The Brussels government should act now and adopt a real air quality plan that meets EU requirements. The longer they delay, the greater the harm to the health of everyone living and working in Brussels.”

The judge is seeking clarification from the CJEU on how authorities should assess compliance with air quality limits. Only where limits are exceeded, are the relevant authorities obliged to adopt an air quality plan. The CJEU’s response will clarify whether levels of air pollution are illegal in Brussels and the regional government should, therefore, adopt a new air quality plan.

The CJEU has also been asked to examine whether citizens can challenge the failure of authorities to properly monitor air quality and whether a national court can order a monitoring station to be installed in the most polluted areas of a city. The response from the CJEU on this question will help the Brussels court to decide if additional monitoring stations should be placed on Brussels’ most polluted roads, including Rue de la Loi and Rue Belliard.

One of the claimants, Lies Craeynest said: “A judgment in our favour would give me hope that Brussels will become more liveable. I want to be able to send my children to the shops or the playground with peace of mind, without worrying about the pollution they breathe. Other cities have shown that this is possible, there is no reason why Brussels could not do the same.”

Karin DeSchepper, another claimant added: “For me, our legal action is a declaration of love to Brussels. I want to stay here and build a better city together. I think that this is something the government must learn: let citizens of all occupations help improve policy that better protects our health.”

The European Commission recently sent a letter of formal notice to Belgium for its continued failure to address illegal levels of air pollution and to properly monitor air quality.