EU citizens could sue countries over polluted air harmful to health, says top court adviser

The Eiffel Tower is shrouded in a haze of small particles hanging over the horizon in Paris, France, December 9, 2016, as the City of Light saw its worst air pollution in a decade. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes

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BRUSSELS, May 5 (Reuters) – Citizens of European Union countries could sue their governments for financial compensation if illegal levels of air pollution harm their health, a councilor from the city said on Thursday. European Supreme Court.

The adviser’s opinion follows a series of decisions by the Luxembourg-based Court of Justice of the EU in recent years, with around ten EU countries, including France, Poland, Italy and the Romania, found guilty of illegal air pollution.

“A violation of the limit values ​​for the protection of air quality under EU law may give rise to the right to compensation from the state,” the court said in a statement.

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Advocate General Juliane Kokott noted that it is often the poorest communities who live and work in heavily polluted areas and are particularly in need of judicial protection.

People seeking compensation will have to prove that damage to their health was directly caused by air pollution, she said. A government can also avoid liability if it could prove that pollution limits would always have been exceeded if it had a sufficient air quality plan in place.

“This legal confirmation that there are ways to hold those in power to account is a major step forward in the fight for clean, healthy air,” said Irmina Kotiuk, a lawyer at environmental law firm ClientEarth.

The opinions of EU courts are not binding, but the court generally agrees with them in the decision that follows in the coming months.

The notice concerns a case brought by a resident of Paris seeking 21 million euros in compensation from the French government, on the grounds that air pollution damaged his health and that the government failed to ensure compliance EU boundaries.

A Versailles court hearing the Paris dispute asked the EU court to clarify whether individuals could claim such compensation.

Paris breached EU legal limits for nitrogen dioxide pollution between 2010 and 2020.

In a bid to reduce premature deaths associated with polluted air, the EU will this year propose an update to its pollution limits to better align them with stricter World Health Organization rules.

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Reporting by Kate Abnett, editing by Marine Strauss and Tomasz Janowski

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