Italy slapped with air pollution lawsuit

Italy ranks second on the list of countries with the highest number of premature deaths from particulate matter pollution in Europe. Venice-area power plant, 2014. [EnricoCE/Flickr]

ClientEarth launched legal action against Lombardy, Italy’s most polluted region, today (22 February). The NGO says this could be the first of several Italian suits.

This comes one week after the European Commission threatened legal action against five EU countries—including Italy—for failing to protect their citizen’s health against dangerous levels of air pollution.

Five countries face fines after breaking EU pollution laws

The European Commission threatened legal action against France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK after they failed to protect their citizens’ health against dangerous levels of air pollution.

The Commission warned that citizens in these five countries were being forced to breathe ‘illegal air’ due to the high amounts of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) that were being emitted into the air.

NO2 is primarily emitted through transport and causes serious health issues— including heart disease, wheezing, coughing and bronchitis. Children and the elderly are especially vulnerable.

ClientEarth is supporting Milan-based group Cittadini per l’Aria and health charity Associazione Ipertensione Polmonare Italiana in claiming their right to clean air, ClientEarth reported.

These three groups said they want to force the authorities to tackle the public health emergency in Lombardy, which is one of Europe’s most polluted regions.

23 EU countries are breaking European air quality laws

European air quality laws are being flouted in more than 130 cities across 23 of the 28 EU member states, the European Commission said yesterday (6 February).

Italy ranks second on the list of countries with the highest number of premature deaths from particulate matter (the sum of all hazardous solid and liquid particles in the air) pollution in Europe.

The pollution in Italy derives mostly from diesel vehicles and the burning of solid fuels, the report said.

“Air pollution in Lombardy is alarmingly high. It has similar levels of pollution to the most heavily industrialised regions on the continent despite the fact it is one of the richest. It has the means to resolve this crisis but continues to dither,” ClientEarth’s CEO, James Thornton, said.

“The regional government of Lombardy has a legal and moral obligation to tackle the region’s toxic air crisis.”

Anna Gerometta with Cittadini per l’Aria said a lack of political will is to blame for the continuous pollution.

“Air pollution affects people in all walks and stages of life and it’s unacceptable that people have to put up with it because of a lack of political will,” she said.

ClientEarth reported that this could be the first of several cases in Italy. It’s the newest in a wave of clean air cases ClientEarth is taking with partners across Europe.

The environmentalist NGO has been met with success during these clean air cases. Last November, it defeated the UK in a case against the government’s failure to tackle air pollution.

UK government loses air pollution court case

Environmental campaigners in the United Kingdom won a High Court legal battle today (2 November) over the government’s failure to tackle air pollution and meet European standards.

There is no indication regarding which member state will be the next target of ClientEarth’s wave of cases, but the organisation isn’t stopping at Italy.

When asked why ClientEarth is the one taking the reigns on the fight for cleaner air instead of the Commission, Jon Bennett, Communications manager at ClientEarth, said the executive is taking action, just at a slower pace.

“We’ve found that our cases can move more swiftly in the national courts, so they are helping get air pollution down more quickly, but we’re glad that the Commission is also taking action.”