Last week, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled that France has “systematically and persistently exceeded the annual limit value for nitrogen dioxide since Jan. 1, 2010”. This follows nearly 10 years of warnings from the Commission that weren’t addressed.
Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) is a polluting gas that can cause major health issues including respiratory problems. It’s one of the main constituents in smog from traffic. According to EU rules, countries are required to keep levels below 40 micrograms per cubic metre. However, this level is often exceeded in busy cities.
France is now the first of a number of member states to be caught up in the “dieselgate” scandal, along with Germany and Britain. In this scandal, carmakers used devices to cheat on emissions tests, which is responsible for higher levels of NO2 in the air.
The current case in France involves 24 areas, including major cities like Paris, Lyon, Nice, Strasbourg and Marseille. It also includes Arve Valley, which is often used by lorries entering Italy. If France doesn’t address the problem, there could be further sanctions.
According to the European Environment Agency, diesel cars are a major contributor to nitrogen oxide emissions, which are thought to be responsible for 68,000 deaths a year in the EU alone. These emissions can also cause other health problems, especially in the elderly, children, and those with existing medical conditions.
Although the French government isn’t disputing the violation, it has argued in court that the current air quality legislation “must be assessed in the light of the structural difficulties encountered” in applying the rules.
However, the EU believes that problems with high pollution had been identified and the member state should be responsible for making plans to address the problem. This would ensure that the period of time with high emissions was “as short as possible”. The court added: “France clearly did not adopt, in due time, appropriate measures,” and pointed to the “overrun for seven consecutive years”.
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