Photographer: Jack Atley/Bloomberg

U.K. Receives Final Warning From EU Over Air Pollution Levels

  • Commission may escalate issue to European Court of Justice
  • Germany, France, Spain and Italy also warned about pollution

The European Commission issued a final warning to the U.K. and other member states over air pollution levels and said it may escalate the matter to the bloc’s highest court.

The U.K. has been in breach of European Union air quality laws since 2010, surpassing the annual limit just five days into 2017. England’s High Court of Justice ruled the lack of government action over the pollution was illegal in a November ruling. Smog levels were worse in London than in Beijing at times last month.

“It’s shameful that the EU has to take legal action against the U.K. government to get it to deal with the dangerous levels of dirty air across the country,” said Jenny Bates, a campaigner at Friends of the Earth. “Air pollution is responsible for tens of thousands of early deaths every year and is harming the health of an entire generation of children.”

More than 400,000 citizens die prematurely in the EU each year as a result of poor air quality, according to a statement from officials in Brussels. The main killer is nitrogen oxide, which is largely emitted with vehicle exhaust, and causes nearly three times more deaths than road traffic accidents.

The commission also targeted Germany, France, Italy and Spain with warnings. If the member states do not take action within two months, the issue may be sent to the European Court of Justice.

Diesel Cars

High pollution levels in European cities are largely caused by the proliferation of diesel-burning engines. Valued for the its wider range than gasoline-powered automobiles, tax incentives were given in the 1990s to encourage a switch to diesel engines. The 2015 Volkswagen scandal, when the automaker was caught rigging emissions tests on its diesel cars, showed that diesel fuels were significantly less green than previously thought.

Once the U.K. leaves the European Union, air-quality standards and rulings made by the Court of Justice will no longer apply. Organizations from non-profits to financial institutions are concerned that air quality and environmental priorities will worsen.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan has repeatedly called for action to address air quality, particularly after issuing a pollution alert on Jan. 23, when parents were advised to keep children indoors. He is planning to implement low-emissions zones in the capital and convert buses to hybrids. Scrapping diesel vehicles would cost as much as 515 million pounds ($639 million), according to a report last week.

The European Commission suggested reducing traffic volumes, using electric vehicles and cutting diesel emissions, according to the statement.

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