3 October 2019
New air pollution figures released by the Belgian government show the Brussels authorities are misreporting air quality in the country’s capital.
The data, which all EU countries must submit annually to the European Commission, suggest levels of air pollution in Brussels in 2018 did not breach the legal limits.
In reality, data from Brussels’ official air quality monitoring site show air quality continues to reach illegal and harmful levels in many areas across the city.
ClientEarth lawyer Ugo Taddei said: “The figures submitted by the Brussels regional government are shamefully misleading.
“The Brussels authorities have a legal and moral obligation to give an accurate picture of air quality in the city. By blatantly refusing to report the real state of the air in the capital, they are showing a complete disregard for the health of all of us who live and work in Brussels.”
The figures submitted to the Commission show that in 2018, Brussels did not breach the legal limit for nitrogen dioxide (NO2). However, the data from monitoring stations at Arts-Loi and Rue Belliard – two of the most polluted parts of the city – were not included in the figures submitted to the Commission, despite the fact recorded concentrations significantly exceeded the legal limits.
According to the regional government, the data from the two monitoring stations were not submitted, as the authorities claim their locations do not comply with the requirements under EU law.
Data from the station at Ixelles was also not submitted due to “technical problems”. Downtime at the monitoring station meant that there was insufficient data to fulfill Commission requirements. However, the data that was collected tracked illegal levels of air pollution – and the regional government says that actual levels were likely to be even higher.
Taddei continued: “Last June, the European Court of Justice supported our fight to make sure air quality information gives a reliable picture of the situation in Brussels. But the regional authorities do not appear to have listened to the judges, instead submitting a startling collection of incomplete, unclear and flawed information to the European Commission.
“The authorities know pollution is at illegal levels in several Brussels locations. They should therefore be providing additional data to make up for these gaps in the monitoring.”
Belgium has been repeatedly criticised for its poor air quality monitoring system. Last year, both the European Court of Auditors and the European Commission highlighted the country’s continuous failure to address illegal levels of air pollution and properly monitor air quality.
In Flanders, the regional government was forced to take additional measures to better assess air quality after a legal action brought by Greenpeace Belgium.
A court ordered the Flemish government to report all existing data on air pollution, including the results of the Curieuze Neuzen campaign and updated modelled maps, to the European Commission.
Since including more accurate data in their reporting, the annual figures show multiple zones and agglomerations are breaching the legal limits for NO2. Previously, Flanders had only reported illegal levels of air pollution in Antwerp. This year’s figures show breaches not only in Antwerp, but also in Ghent and in many other streets across Flanders.
Taddei added: “The case in Flanders shows that better monitoring is needed to assess air quality across the country. The Brussels regional government should fix the monitoring system immediately instead of making empty promises and waiting to be forced to do so by the court.
“They need to start making changes now. The longer they delay, the greater the harm to the health of everyone in Brussels.”
Data is available in a spreadsheet on request.
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Notes to editors
The legal limit for nitrogen dioxide is 40 µg/m3. In 2017, the annual pollution levels in Brussels were 49 µg/m3, which were even higher than those recorded in 2016 (48 µg/m3) and 2015 (45 µg/m3).
Last year, Brussels Energy and Environment Minister Céline Fremault, announced that the government would install an additional monitoring station every year until 2026. Any outdated stations would be upgraded or replaced. However, there has been no subsequent information on where the new monitoring stations will be.
ClientEarth, along with five local residents, is pursuing court proceedings against the Brussels regional authorities for their failure to bring air pollution below dangerous levels as soon as possible.
The environmental lawyers are pushing for an air quality plan that will tackle illegal pollution and for accurate air quality monitoring and reporting.
The judge in the case requested further guidance from the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) before making a final decision.
In June 2019, the CJEU backed Brussels citizens and ClientEarth in their fight for clean air. The case will now return to the Court of First instance in Brussels for a final judgment.
ClientEarth is a charity that uses the power of the law to protect people and the planet. We are international lawyers finding practical solutions for the world’s biggest environmental challenges. We are fighting climate change, protecting oceans and wildlife, making forest governance stronger, greening energy, making business more responsible and pushing for government transparency. We believe the law is a tool for positive change. From our offices in London, Brussels, Warsaw, Berlin and Beijing, we work on laws throughout their lifetime, from the earliest stages to implementation. And when those laws are broken, we go to court to enforce them.