France fined for air pollution breach with €10m going to public bodies

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France has been fined €10m for failing to improve air pollution, the country’s highest administrative court has ruled. 

It goes back to 2017 when the court ordered the country to put in place new parameters to reduce particulate matter (PM2.5) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2) pollution in 13 areas. 

Three years later, despite some improvements, the court found that the levels of pollution in eight areas were still too high and so it gave the state six months to make changes.

In January 2021, the court launched a new analysis to evaluate the new policies, including a spread of low-emission zones in major towns.

While the court did acknowledge that some progress had been made, it said that many towns – including Paris, Lyon, Marseille-Aix, Toulouse, and Grenoble – were still close to or over the pollution thresholds. 

It said: “The state cannot be considered to have taken enough measures to ensure the complete execution of our decisions [of 2017 and 2020].

“Even though most of the measures put forward by the ecology minister should have an effect to improve the situation, uncertainty surrounding the adoption of these conditions and the absence of their definite effects in the areas concerned, do not allow us, at this stage, to consider that they will end the exceeding of the thresholds that we are still seeing.”

The court will re-examine the government’s actions for the second half of the year in 2022, to order ‘another payment of €10million, which may yet be increased or decreased’, a court statement said.

In response, a joint statement from the NGOs Amis de la Terre (Friends of the Earth), and Greenpeace said: ‘As the court has followed the conclusions of the public prosecutor, this fine will be historic and reinforce the key role that courts can play in the fight against climate change.’

Friends of the Earth received €100,000. The rest of the money has been divided between several public bodies working against air pollution, including Ademe, Cerema, Anses, and Ineris; and four regional air quality monitoring associations

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