A court in The Hague ruled against an attempt to force the Dutch state to do more to comply with EU emissions limits.
Last August, environmental organization Milieudefensie, the Dutch branch of international environmental network Friends of the Earth, filed a lawsuit in the Netherlands aiming to force the Dutch state to take more drastic measures to improve the air quality in the Netherlands. According to the organization, the concentration of particulate matter (PM) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2) in the air exceeds EU limits in a number of places in the Netherlands. The organization argued that this is detrimental to citizens’ health and can cause premature death. “Unhealthy air currently causes tens of thousands of illnesses and thousands of deaths a year”, Anne Knol, campaign leader at Milieudefensie, said.
According to the EU directive on ambient air quality and cleaner air for Europe, the country was supposed to comply with emissions limits for nitrogen dioxide by 1 January 2010, and for particulate matter by 1 January 2005. However, the European Commission gave the country an extended period to comply, namely until 1 January 2015 for NO2, and 11 June 2011 for PM. Not only did it not happen, but Milieudefensie claimed that the air quality plan the Dutch government has in place is too general and not efficient enough, asking the court that a new plan is made by the end of 2018.
The court rejected Milieudefensie’s request, arguing that the measures against air pollution in the government’s National Air Quality Cooperation Plan are sufficient. The judges did note that the limits on particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide in the World Health Organization guidelines are still exceeded in some places in the Netherlands. The government must ensure that these guidelines are followed “as soon as possible”, the court said. But added that “there is no treaty provision that requires the State to do so”.
The ruling was remarkable because it contrasted with earlier rulings in Europe. In a 2014 landmark ruling, the Court of Justice of the EU said the UK’s Supreme Court should take “any necessary measure” to make sure the government complies with EU emissions limits. More recently, a court in Stuttgart, Germany, told the municipality to rewrite its air quality plan last July, and said a ban on diesel cars should be in place as of next year. Then, a court told the Dutch government to take more action reducing greenhouse gases, which help cause potential catastrophic global warming.
The activist noted that the group would consider appealing the decision.