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Media alert: 15 December 2020
What: ClientEarth and five local residents will head to court for the final hearing in their case against the Brussels regional government’s continued failure to ensure the right to clean air in the city.
When: Thursday, 17 December 2020 at 08:45-12:00 CET.
Who: ClientEarth and five Brussels citizens (Lies Craeynest, Karin de Schepper, Stefan Vandermeulen, Frédéric Mertens and Cristina Lopez Devaux) are suing the Brussels government over its failure to address illegal levels of air pollution and inadequately monitor toxic air in the city.
Where: The final hearing will be held (in Dutch) at the Brussels First Instance Tribunal (Tribunal de première instance néerlandophone de Bruxelles/Nederlandstalige Rechtbank van Eerste Aanleg Brussel). The hearing will take place in-person in Room 9.
Why: The final hearing comes following a four-year legal battle against the Brussels regional government for its failure to deliver an adequate air quality plan and to properly monitor concentrations of NO2 – a harmful pollutant – which in towns and cities comes mostly from diesel vehicles.
Media enquiries and interviews: If you are interested in speaking with ClientEarth’s lawyer or with one of the Brussels residents, please contact Bianca Vergnaud: firstname.lastname@example.org; +32 471 88 70 95.
Despite air pollution regularly exceeding the legal limits in Brussels since 2010, the regional government has tried to dodge its legal obligation to adopt an air quality plan by using legal technicalities to discard the results from individual monitoring stations that record illegal levels of NO2.
What’s happened so far?
The case launched in September 2016. After an initial court hearing in November 2017, the Court of First Instance of Brussels asked for further guidance from the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) – the EU’s highest court – 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.
The Brussels court asked the CJEU to clarify whether citizens can take authorities to court over the lack of adequate air quality monitoring stations and on how authorities should assess compliance with air quality limits.
Meanwhile, in November 2018, the European Commission sent a 'letter of formal notice' to Belgium for its continuous failure to address illegal levels of air pollution and to properly monitor air quality. The flaws in the Brussels air quality monitoring network have also been highlighted by the European Court of Auditors.
Since then, in 2018, the Brussels regional government announced it would install an additional monitoring station every year until 2026. However, more than two years later, no additional monitoring station has been installed.
During the hearing before the CJEU in January 2019, lawyers from the European Commission intervened to expose the Brussels government’s attempts to dodge its obligation to adopt an air quality plan.
In June 2019, the CJEU’s ruling backed Brussels citizens and ClientEarth in their fight for clean air, confirming air quality must be assessed by looking at the highest measurements, not by using a city-wide average.
The CJEU also set an important precedent as it ruled that citizens have the right to go to court to challenge how authorities monitor pollution. The law is now crystal clear that people across the EU, including in Brussels, can challenge how air pollution is measured if they think there is a problem with it.
According to the interim ruling from the Brussels court in December 2017, this means the Brussels authorities should have started to work immediately on a new plan to clean up the city’s air. However, the Brussels regional government is still refusing to improve the region’s monitoring network and to adopt the measures needed to comply with legally binding air quality standards as soon as possible.
The case has now returned to the Court of First Instance in Brussels for a final judgment.
We expect the Brussels court to communicate the date of the judgment at the end of the hearing.