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The Court clarifies Member States’ obligations as regards respecting the limit values for nitrogen dioxide

When a Member State finds that the limit values cannot be respected before the deadline fixed by the Air Quality Directive and wishes to postpone that deadline for a maximum of five years, that Member State is required to make an application for the postponement of the deadline by drawing up an air quality plan demonstrating how those limits will be met before the new deadline.

The Air Quality Directive,1 establishes limit values for certain pollutants in ambient air. As regards nitrogen dioxide, the limit values must not be exceeded after 1 January 2010. However, the directive provides that, if, in a zone or agglomeration in which conditions are particularly difficult, the limit values cannot be met by that date notwithstanding the implementation of appropriate measures, a Member State may postpone the deadline until 1 January 2015 at the latest. That option is subject to the condition that the Member State draws up, in accordance with the requirements laid down by the directive, an air quality plan that demonstrates how the limit values will be met before the new deadline. 

In the UK the limit values for nitrogen dioxide were exceeded in 2010 in 40 of the 43 zones set up for the purposes of the directive. In September 2011, the UK submitted plans to the Commission together with applications for the postponement of the deadline for 24 of the 40 zones for which the UK predicted that the limit values would be met by 1 January 2015. For 16 zones or agglomerations (including Greater London), in respect of which the air quality plans projected compliance with the limit values between 2015 and 2025, the UK did not request a time extension.

ClientEarth, an environmental NGO, asked the British courts to require the UK Government to revise the plans to show how the nitrogen dioxide limit values would be respected as soon as possible, and by 1 January 2015 at the latest.

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