The British government had wanted to keep the report into the extent of air pollution in the U.K. secret, at least until the June General Election was over. The election formed the basis of the government’s court defense, arguing that it was not obliged to publish political or policy documents in the time between parliaments. Green groups counter-argued, successfully in the end, that pollution and public health is not a ‘party political’ issue and instead something that is a civil right.
The action against the government was brought by the organization ClientEarth. The environment group contended that current government policy ignores many measures that could help achieve a better quality of atmospheric environment, and therefore the report needed to be published as a public health issue. The group was supported by the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan.
The aim of the report was to study the potential impacts of air pollution on human health and the natural environment. The types of pollutants studied included ozone, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, particles, hydrocarbons and metallic pollutants. Diesel vehicles are a key source of many of these emissions, especially the harmful nitrogen dioxide. Within the report was the British government’s plan to tackle the relatively high levels of air pollution in the U.K.
The high court, on ruling on the government’s plan, judged the government’s actions to be illegal, forcing the way for the report to be published. The judge, Mr Justice Garnham said the government was “obliged to comply with orders of this court as any other litigant”, adding that air pollution had created “exceptional public health circumstances”.
Commenting on the publication, James Thornton, who heads up ClientEarth, told The Guardian: “The time for legal action is over. I challenge Theresa May to take immediate action now to deal with illegal levels of pollution and prevent tens of thousands of additional early deaths in the UK. The high court has ruled that more urgent action must be taken. Britain is watching and waiting, prime minister.”
Following this, opposition the Labour Party’s Sadiq Khan told the BBC: “I am pleased that the government will now have to face its responsibilities sooner rather than later. Ministers were dragged kicking and screaming to face the huge scale of this health crisis, but rather than take immediate action to protect the public they deliberately used the election as a smokescreen to hold back their plan.”
The London Mayor added: “I hope that after this appalling delay, this Government delivers a strong plan to finally get a grip on this issue and urgently introduces a diesel scrappage fund to rid our streets of the dirtiest cars.”