The European Commission has sent a final warning to the UK for failing to address its repeated breaches of air pollution limits for nitrogen dioxide. The warning is in the form of a ‘reasoned opinion’, which is the final stage of the EU infringement procedure before referring a failure to comply with EU law to the European Court of Justice.
The Commission has warned the UK that ‘If Member States fail to act within two months the Commission may decide to take the matter to the Court of Justice of the EU.’ Once before the court the Commission can call for penalties to be imposed. Fines could be up to £1.5bn. Fines can either be daily payments or in the form of a lump sum. This gives the UK two months to outline its plans to the EU. If the Commission is unsatisfied with the response it can elevate the infringement, although this process could take years. The UK has 43 Air Quality Zones for assessing air quality and reporting compliance for a number of targets to the EU. 16 of these are in breach of EU Directive 2008/50/EC which sets air pollution limits including nitrogen dioxide. These include London, Birmingham, Leeds and Glasgow.
The Commission states that while each member state can choose its own measures to address NO2 exceedances, they should consider addressing traffic volume, fuel types, converting to electric vehicles and driving behaviour. Diesel vehicles should be addressed to achieve EU compliance. The UK is one of five countries to have received a ‘reasoned opinion’ over air quality breaches. Germany has suffered persistent NO2 breaches in 28 air quality zones, France in 19, Italy in 12 and Spain in three. In addition to the warning about the 2008 directive the Commission has sent the UK government a ‘letter of formal notice’ relating to braches of the 2014 directive on alternative fuels infrastructure and a 2015 directive on air quality monitoring. This is the first stage of the EU infringement procedure.