On October 4, 2017 London became the world’s first mega-city to commit to reaching the WHO’s air quality guidelines by 2030. Sadiq Khan, The Mayor of London, has signed London up to the Breathelife network of 35 cities across the world also working towards these gold standard limits on pollution, at a speech at the FIA’s Foundation’s Every Journey, Every Child Conference.
This bold move is welcome, but recent history tells us that people and organisations need ways to hold government bodies to account on their pledges that don’t put them at undue risk.
The UNECE Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters, usually known as the Aarhus Convention, was signed on 25 June 1998 in the Danish city of Aarhus. It entered into force on 30 October 2001. As of March 2014, it has 47 parties—46 states and the European Union.
A report on access to environmental justice has been quietly published by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) at the height of our fine summer. The report includes information such as inaccurate figures on the cost of pursuing environmental legal cases against the government. An Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee report found that recent law reform moved the UK “further away” from fulfilling its duty to allow citizens to bring forward environmental cases.
On 15 August 2017, DEFRA opened a consultation on its draft report setting out how sees that the UK is currently implementing the Aarhus Convention. The DEFRA report argues that the UK is in compliance with all three pillars of the convention. However, recently the government adopted new rules which expose people and organisations like RSPB, Friends of the Earth and Client Earth to potentially unlimited legal costs when pursuing an environmental case against the government. The consultation period ended on the 29th August 2017.
Luckily, on the 15th September, the High Court told the UK government that its new rules for environmental cases must be changed to protect those taking legal action. In his judgement, Mr Justice Dove said the rules would benefit from further clarification in key ways, but that they will remain in place. The government must now make the changes.
Now, with the High Court ruling, caps will still be fixed at the beginning of a case, which will allow people or charities taking a case to know how much it will cost them at the start.