A court in Prague ruled on Wednesday that the Czech government’s air quality plan for the capital city fails to bring air pollution in line with European Union limits.
The court called the plan “too vague and unrealistic” and ordered it to be cancelled and drawn up again. The plan was originally laid out in 2012 by the Czech Ministry of Environment. Czech news website Deník said a reason for the decision was not yet available.
The Czech Republic was among the nine countries called out last week by the European Commission for exceeding agreed air pollution limits. At a meeting with environment ministers from each of the countries, EU Environment Commissioner Karmenu Vella told the ministers they would have one week to propose a better solution to their air quality problems.
“The deadlines for meeting the legal obligations have long elapsed and some say we have already waited too long, but we can delay no more. I have made this very clear to ministers this morning”, Vella told a news conference in Brussels after the meeting.
The group, which includes the EU’s largest economies, Germany and France, could face legal action if they fail to bring pollutant levels within European limits. Poland and Bulgaria have already faced penalties over air quality issues.
ClientEarth, a non-profit environmental law organisation, and residents of Prague said the air quality plan must be replaced with one that includes more “concrete actions” to cut down on pollution. They also said the new plan must better protect the capital’s population from harmful pollutants, particularly those emitted from transportation.
Agnieszka Warso-Buchanan, environmental lawyer at ClientEarth, said the Czech Government has failed to effectively deal with air pollution. A new program will bring pollutants down to the legal limits as soon as possible, according to Warso-Buchanan.
The Czech Republic falls among the countries with the worst air quality in the EU, according to the European Air Quality Index. Fine particulate matter, the most harmful pollutant, is a major contributor to the country’s air quality issues.
An estimated 400,000 people die each year because of poor air quality in the EU. The biggest emitters of air pollutants in Europe are road transport, agriculture, power plants, industry, and households. Although there have been numerous proposals to reduce air pollution, progress has been slow. Targets introduced for 2005 and 2010 are still being exceeded in 23 of 28 EU countries.
In addition to its negative effects on health, pollution has significant impacts on the economy. According to some estimates, bad air quality costs Europe more than €20 billion a year. High levels of air pollutants increase medical costs, reduce employees’ productivity, and damage soil, crops, forests, lakes, and rivers.
“Inaction has consequences”, Vella warned. “Without new and effective measures, in many cases, air quality standards will further continue to be exceeded for months and years, even well beyond 2020… I urge all member states to address this life-threatening problem with the urgency it deserves”.
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