Credit: Bruxsel'air

Landmark ruling confirms Brussels’ residents right to challenge illegal air pollution

Brussels’ citizens have the right to take the city’s regional government to court for failing to tackle illegal air pollution – that’s the landmark ruling from the EU’s top court this week.

The judgement – which sets a precedent for people all across the EU – means citizens can call out authorities’ failings when it comes to properly monitoring air pollution, such as not monitoring exposure at the most polluted spots and using a city-wide average instead.

The case was brought to the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) by NGO Client Earth and five Brussels’ residents.

One of the claimants in the case, Karin DeSchepper, said that the ruling sends “a clear message not just to the incoming Brussels government, but to all authorities in Belgium, that if they do not make clean air for all a priority, then they will face the legal consequences“. DeSchepper added that “we now need to see concrete action so that we all can breathe the clean air we deserve.”

NO2 pollution in cities is linked to dirty diesel vehicles, which cause high concentrations of the pollutant in urban areas.

A recent citizen science investigation Belgium highlighted the extent of Europe’s air quality crisis as European limit values were being broken almost anywhere traffic formed in towns and cities.

Another claimant, Lies Craeynest said that the Court of Justice had confirmed that “we are entitled to take our government to court to ensure they monitor air quality accurately and provide us with accurate information.”

At the end of last year, the 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, giving the country two months to comply.

Ugo Taddei, from Client Earth, welcomed this week’s court decision, calling for Brussels authorities to “adopt an air quality plan which meets legal standards and monitor the air quality in a way that gives an accurate picture of the levels of air pollution in the city”. Taddei added that “Brussels citizens have a right to clean air and they can breathe a little bit easier knowing that Europe’s top court has upheld that right today.”

The European Environmental Bureau has been pressing for tougher EU action against countries breaching European air quality limits for years.