Sunday

21st Jul 2019

Dutch activists lose case for cleaner air

  • Several European green groups protest for cleaner air, and some take the legal route (Photo: Peter Teffer)

The Netherlands is violating EU air quality standards, but is doing enough to improve the situation, a Dutch court ruled on Wednesday (27 December).

The court rejected the request from Milieudefensie, the local branch of the international environmental lobby group Friends of the Earth, to order the national government to come up with new air quality plans.

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The ruling was remarkable because it contrasted with earlier rulings in Europe.

In 2014, the European Court of Justice said that national courts can order governments to make sure that they comply with the EU's air quality directive, which sets limits for several types of pollutants.

Several green groups and citizens have used the European ruling to go to court, and until now booked successes.

The UK government has been told several times to improve their air quality plans, to make sure that the EU pollution limits are not breached.

In the Netherlands, Milieudefensie also went to court, because of too high levels of particulate matter and nitrogen dioxides, in particular due to traffic and intensive agriculture.

Because the activists felt the court was taking too long to come to a decision, they requested a legal procedure through which the court comes to a quicker decision.

In September, a court in The Hague ruled that the Dutch state had to do more to improve air quality, and had to refrain from adopting policies that would create more air pollution.

The Dutch government said it would comply with the first part, but would appeal the second part.

Nevertheless, the ruling was a big win for the environmental movement.

On Wednesday however, the original judges in The Hague who had been looking at the case since the beginning - whose progress Milieudefensie had deemed too slow - came to their verdict.

They ruled that Milieudefensie had not shown concretely enough that the Dutch government should take more measures, and what the health damage was for the perceived inaction.

"That is the world upside down," said Anne Knol, activist for Milieudefensie, in a statement.

"It has been long established that people are sustaining concrete damage. Thousands of people become ill or die prematurely," she said.

The activist noted that the group would consider appealing the decision.

The ruling is also quite different from a separate landmark verdict, given in 2015.

Then, a court told the Dutch government to take more action reducing greenhouse gases, which help cause potential catastrophic global warming.

It was the first time such a verdict was based on scientific evidence, rather than on legal agreements.

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