Clutch of campaigning organisations seek judicial review of Defra's refusal to investigate reported links between pollution and Covid-19 health outcomes
Legal action has been launched this week to force the government to review its air pollution strategy two years ahead of schedule in light of mounting scientific evidence that suggests dirty air worsens the health risks associated with Covid-19.
A legal case is being brought by the Good Law Project in collaboration with Mums for Lungs, Students for Global Health, and the UK Youth Climate Coalition that seeks a judicial review into the government's refusal to reassess its Clean Air Strategy following a number of reports linking health outcomes during the pandemic with air pollution.
The groups claim that the government has a legal obligation to review the strategy because of the 'precautionary principle', which dictates that precautionary measures must be taken when scientific evidence about an environmental or human health hazard is uncertain and the stakes are high - in this case, the threat to human life posed by air pollution during a pandemic.
Defra refused a request from the Good Law Project for a review of the strategy in June, citing a lack of "compelling reasons" for such a review at the time.
And today, a spokesperson told BusinessGreen that "further analysis is needed to properly and scientifically understand any link between air quality and coronavirus severity."
The spokesperson stressed that improving air quality "remains a top priority" for the government, which would "continue to take robust and comprehensive action to improve air quality in the UK and minimise public health impacts".
The Good Law Project has stated in legal documents that it had requested a formal review due to "substantially increased harm being caused by poor air quality on account of Covid-19". In light of this emerging threat, the group said "the Secretary of State was legally obliged to consider adopting a more ambitious air quality than previously".
"This would have the effect of bringing forward a review of the Clean Air Strategy that was already scheduled to take place in 2022," it added.
The Good Law Project has now requested a fresh response from Defra to its latest intervention by 16 September and has launched a crowdfunding page to fund the litigation, which it predicted would be "undeniably difficult and expensive".
Launched in January 2019, the government's Clean Air Strategy aims to reduce the number of people exposed to air pollution. The plan was introduced following a series of successful legal actions, which forced the government to enhance its air quality plans after the UK repeatedly failed to meet legally-binding EU air quality targets.
However, the new plan has continued to face criticism from health and environmental campaigners, who claim it fell short of setting sufficient targets for particulate matter, one of the most harmful pollutants.
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