Environmental group loses cleaner-air lawsuit against Dutch State

Air pollution (Picture: Wikimedia Commons/Zakysant)Air pollution (Picture: Wikimedia Commons/Zakysant)

On Wednesday the court in The Hague ruled against Milieudefensie in a lawsuit filed by the environmental group to force the Dutch government to take more measures to reduce air pollution. According to the court, the Dutch State is taking sufficient measures to improve air quality, NU.nl reports.

Milieudefensie accused the government of violating human rights on health and not doing enough to improve air quality in the Netherlands. "Unhealthy air currently causes tens of thousands of illnesses and thousands of deaths a year", Anne Knol of the environmental group said, according to the newspaper. "In the Netherlands we smoke on average the equivalent of five cigarettes per day unnoticed, only by breathing. The government knows this, but still chooses to allow 130 kilometers per hour on highways or dirty diesels in city centers. With that our right to health is taken away. We demand that this stop as soon as possible."

But the court disagreed. According to the court, the measures against air pollution in the government's National Air Quality Cooperation Plan are sufficient. The court 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 the State does not have to comply with the WHO guidelines. "There is no treaty provision that requires the State to do so", the court explained. 

The RIVM's annual air quality report in October revealed that air pollution caused by nitrogen dioxide was slightly higher in 2016 than the year before, while pollution caused by particulate matter was slightly lower. The RIVM stated that the air quality standards will still be exceeded in 2020, according to the newspaper. 

In September Milieudefensie also filed summary proceedings against the Netherlands, demanding that the government work on at least meeting EU air quality standards. In that case the court ruled that the government had to draw up an air quality plan that complies with the European rules. Milieudefensie considers the plan the government came up with to be inadequate.

From next year Milieudefensie will work with so-called Air Guards - residents of large cities who will continually push their local governments to work faster and effectively to improve the air quality in their region.