Crowd of people walking on the busy city street.

Spanish citizens can breathe easier as regional court says clean air plans are a must

A Spanish regional court has issued a ruling forcing the local government to create and enforce air quality plans. The NGO and EEB member ‘Ecologistas en Acción’ lead the legal action which led to the historic ruling.

This article is a follow up of a previous META article.

On the 19 October 2018, the High Court of Justice of Castile and León declared that the government of the region had to draft and propose air quality improvement plans without delay. This important precedent will lead to improved air quality for close to 2 million Spanish citizens.

Samuel Martín-Sosa, International Coordinator for Ecologistas en Acción, said:

“With this ruling, Spain joins the emerging wave of citizens advocating for better air quality in Europe.
As we are facing the inaction of governments, NGOs are taking the lead and bringing cases to different courts. Justice is on our side”

European Union law says that governments and local authorities must have plans in place to tackle harmful ozone in the air we breathe, but some governments are failing to act. And no national plan has been developed in Spain.

The Court claimed that the inexistence of a National Plan could not be an excuse not to act at the regional level. In a press release, Ecologistas en Acción points out that the Spanish National Court has a case pending against the Spanish Government because they failed to come up with a National Plan for Tropospheric Ozone.

Ecologistas en Acción welcomed the ruling of the court that will affect: Salamanca, North Douro, South Douro, South Mountain, Tiétar Valley and Alberche, and South and East of Castile and León. Valladolid, Soria and Demanda are expected to be added shortly. The Air Quality Plan will protect 75,500 square kilometres and 1,755,000 people.

The NGO declared:

“The declaration of the High Court of Castile and León is highly relevant because it is the first time that a Spanish Court declares the legal obligation of drafting plans on air quality to tackle ozone pollution, basing the decision on national law, being consistent with the similar resolutions -although on other pollutants-, introduced during recent years by national courts from Germany, Belgium, Nederland, Poland, United Kingdom or Czech Republic.”

Ozone level is particularly worrying in Spain, as according to the European Environment Agency, ozone pollution caused 1,600 premature deaths in Spain in 2014 alone.

Ecologistas en Acción’s previous calls for the European Commission to intervene have been dismissed, with officials explaining that efforts are being focused on ensuring governments take action to meet EU air quality limits for other pollutants. 

The Commission argues that action to tackle particulate matter (PM) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2) emissions should also lead to reductions in ozone concentrations.

Spain was one of just three of the ‘toxic bloc’ governments that this May avoided being sent to Europe’s top court for failing to tackle air pollution. Unlike Germany, the UK, France, Italy, Romania and Hungary, the Spanish government will not yet need to explain themselves to judges in Luxembourg.