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Environment

Britain Has Just Days to Take 'Drastic' Action on Air Pollution, or Face EU Court of Justice

The UK has been given an ultimatum by the EU that means it has just days to show how it will comply with EU air pollution laws, or it must face the European Court of Justice.

Britain and eight other EU member states — including Germany, Spain, France, and Italy — have until Feb. 9 to prove that they will crack down on air pollution. 

Karmenu Vella, the EU’s environment commissioner, said the EU has lost patience with states failing to meet air pollution laws, and “drastic measures” are now necessary. 

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“Deadlines for meeting these obligations have long since elapsed and some say we’ve already waited too long,” he told reporters in Brussels on Tuesday. “But we can delay no more.” 

“We urge member states to address this life-threatening problem with the urgency it deserves,” he said.

A spokesperson for the UK Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), said: “We continue to actively engage at a European and international level to tackle air pollution.”

The warning comes as London met its legal air pollution limit for the year — less than a month in. 

But — believe it or not — that’s actually a marked improvement on previous years. Throughout the past decade, air pollution has reached illegal levels in the capital just six days into the year or less. 

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The improvement is largely linked to London mayor Sadiq Khan’s efforts to cut levels of toxic nitrogen dioxide in the air, through the use of cleaner buses in the city’s most polluted areas. 

But Khan has said he can’t do more without government support. 

Meanwhile, every person in London is breathing air that exceeds health guidelines set out by the World Health Organisation, according to research published in October — despite levels being generally below existing legal limits, reported the Guardian

Elsewhere in the UK, toxic air has been at illegal levels in most urban areas since 2010, and has been connected to around 40,000 early deaths every year.

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The EU’s warning on Tuesday could lead to significant fines for the UK, even if it comes after Brexit. 

And the EU’s threatened action has been in the pipelines for a while, which could make the potential fines even greater, according to reports. Britain was sent a final warning to comply with pollution limits in February 2017 as well.

“If you take the seriousness and how long it’s been taking place for, it could be quite a big amount,” one EU source told the Guardian

It could, however, still take a further two years for the case to be heard by the court, if the EU decides to take action. 

The nine member states who have received warnings from the EU also include Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic. 

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