Czech Supreme Administrative Court ruled today in favour better protection of human health from air pollution in Brno, a Czech city with 370 thousand inhabitants. The Court revoked the city's Air Quality Management Plan, issued in 2016 by the Czech Ministry of Environment. The reasoning of the ruling has not been made public yet, but the main argument against the plan was that it was not effective enough and would not lead to a swift achievement of the binding air quality standards. A similar ruling was issued in December 2017 with respect to Ostrava and in February 2018 regarding Prague and Usti region.
"The plan does not fulfill all requirements foreseen by the Air Quality Directive. What is missing is the timeframe for implementation of the proposed measures, which would assure that the plan meets its goals in a given time. The plan should also contain means to evaluate the measures and quantify their contribution to the air quality improvement," says Petra Marie Giňová, lawyer at Frank Bold, a legal firm which plead the case of civic associations and individual citizens.
The Supreme Administrative Court ruled as the court of second instance, its decision is final and in force. It cannot be challenged by any judicial remedy.
ClientEarth lawyer Agnieszka Warso-Buchanan notices the Czech government has failed to tackle the air pollution crisis in the country. “But as we can see here, law has the power to fix it and force the authorities to produce the air quality plan that will bring back the air pollution within legal limits as soon as possible,” she says. “This is another victory of ClientEarth and its partners in Europe for clean air and citizens’ rights to breathe it and live in a healthier environment - this time in the capital of the Czech Republic,” adds Agnieszka Warso-Buchanan.
“Nor local nor national governments take very seriously the issue of health implications of poor air quality. That clearly shows in the inefficiency of measures adopted on both municipal and national levels. Should we look beyond our borders - to Vienna or Berlin - a holistic approach to improving air quality has been practised for many years. Poor air quality has fatally affects not only human health, but also health of unborn children,” says Hana Chalupská from civic initiative Brnění, who was one of the claimants.
Brno is the second largest city in the Czech Republic, the capital of Moravia and the centre of the South Moravian region. It is located at an important crossroads of transit corridors with traffic load up to 48,000 vehicles/day. The main factor causing emissions in the city is traffic (68% PM10, 83% NOx, 93% benzene and 85% VOC). Stationary sources of pollution contribute mainly to the emissions of SO2 (97%) and benzo(a)pyrene (almost 100%). A major problem related to dust emissions is the so-called "secondary dustiness" originated by formation of dust particles whirls caused by means of transport, softstanding, non-grassed surfaces and transport from agriculturally cultivated fields in the surroundings of the city.
The Directive 2008/50/EC on ambient air quality and cleaner air for Europe, as well as Czech Air Quality Act, require that the Air Quality Management Plans reassure the achievement of the legal air pollution limits “in the shortest time possible”. The quashed Air Quality Management Plan for Brno did not provide effective measures to fulfil this requirement. The Ministry of the Environment thus did not meet its obligations set by the directive and the law. Therefore the Supreme Administrative Court quashed the plan and the Ministry will now have to start the preparation of a new Air Quality Management Plan for the city.
Frank Bold has provided legal expertise for three similar lawsuits where local citizens and NGOs challenged Air Quality Management Plans in other highly polluted regions – Brno and Prague agglomerations and Ústí region – for analogous reasons. All four plans have been cancelled.