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Landmark decision in Paris air pollution case

The French state has taken insufficient steps to limit air pollution around Paris, a court has found in a landmark case brought by a mother and daughter.

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The Paris périphérique ring road is used by 1.1 million drivers a day
The Paris périphérique ring road is used by 1.1 million drivers a day

The French state has not taken sufficient steps to limit air pollution around the city of Paris, a court has found, after a mother and daughter complained that pollution had been detrimental to their health.

 

French news agency AFP reports that the case, which came before the administrative court in Montreuil outside Paris and was backed by NGOs, including Ecologie sans Frontiere, was the first brought by individuals against the French state over health problems caused by air pollution.

 

Insufficient measures taken

 

The court said that the state committed a fault by taking “insufficient measures” concerning the quality of air and that between 2012 and 2016, it had failed to take measures needed to reduce concentrations of certain polluting gases exceeding the allowed limits.

 

At the time, the mother and daughter were living in the northern Paris suburb of Saint-Ouen, just outside the heavily congested périphérique ring road, which is reportedly used by around 1.1 million drivers a day.

 

The plaintiffs’ lawyer Francois Lafforgue told AFP: "For victims of pollution, this is a first. From now, the state will have to take effective measures in the fight against pollution."

According to the Air Quality Life Index, fossil fuel-driven particulate air pollution cuts global average life expectancy by 1.8 years per person

The court rejected demand for 160,000 euros in damages, saying it could not find a direct link between their health problems and the state’s failings.

 

Growing concern in cities

 

The landmark case comes at a time of growing concern about the effects of air pollution in cities around the world. According to a report in The European Heart Journal, air pollution reduces the mean life expectancy in Europe by about 2.2 years.

 

The Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago (EPIC) reports that fossil fuel-driven particulate air pollution cuts global average life expectancy by 1.8 years per person.

 

It launched The Air Quality Life Index (AQLI) last year which establishes particulate pollution as the single greatest threat to human health globally, with its effect on life expectancy exceeding that of devastating communicable diseases such as tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS and behavioural killers like cigarette smoking.

 

The index shows that loss of life expectancy is highest in Asia, exceeding six years in many parts of India and China, while some residents of the United States still lose up to a year of life from pollution.

"London launched its ultra-low emission zone in April charging all but the cleanest vehicles to enter the city centre. Other cities need to follow without delay"

The index converts air pollution concentrations into their impact on life expectancy so policy-makers and the public can determine the benefits of air pollution policies in terms of longer lives. It shows the life expectancy gains if pollution concentrations were reduced to meet the World Health Organisation guidelines.

 

"The public is waking up to the horrific implications of toxic air,” said Simon Brammer, head of cities at sustinable energy charity, Ashden, which recently launched the Climate Action Co-benefits Toolkit, that proposes more radical policies in areas such as cleaner air and citizen wellbeing. "Recently the World Health Organisation said dirty air was the “new tobacco”. We know that charging people for driving polluting vehicles into urban centres is the most effective short-term measure but it has to have ‘citizen backing’.

 

"London launched its ultra-low emission zone in April charging all but the cleanest vehicles to enter the city centre. Other cities need to follow suit without delay if we are to avoid this health crisis at the heart of our towns and cities."

 

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