ClientEarth accuses Defra of using ‘fantasy data’ on air quality

ClientEarth has claimed the UK government’s compliance estimates for clean air laws could be ‘years out’ because projections are based on ‘fantasy data.’

ClientEarth has called on the government for a more comprehensive plan on air pollution

ClientEarth has called on the government for a more comprehensive plan on air pollution

And, the environmental law group is calling for a “more ambitious and comprehensive plan” to tackle air pollution in the UK.

The group has challenged the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) to reveal whether it has altered its projections for air pollution following the government’s own findings that the newest diesel cars pollute on average six times more when tested on the road rather than in the lab.

ClientEarth, which yesterday (25 August) submitted its response to the government’s legal arguments for its upcoming court case on illegal air pollution (see story), also announced that it has sent an Environmental Information Request to Defra, asking it to reveal the methods used to calculate how air quality in the UK will breach legal levels.


While the government predicts most areas of the country will be compliant with legal air pollution limits by 2020 (2025 in London), ClientEarth has claimed it is unclear whether this has factored in the poor emissions performance of most diesel cars, which was revealed in tests by the Department for Transport this year.

The group has claimed diesel cars are a ‘key contributor’ to illegal levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) in towns and cities across the country and as such must be factored in.

ClientEarth lawyer, Alan Andrews, said: “We think that far more towns and cities will still be breaching air pollution limits in 2020 than the six in the Government’s rose-tinted projections. This is ten years after the deadline. Every year that goes by, thousands more people will needlessly suffer sickness and early death from breathing illegal and harmful levels of air pollution.”

ClientEarth's Alan Andrews

ClientEarth’s Alan Andrews has said the government’s projections are ‘rose-tinted.’


Mr Andrews added: “That’s why we have submitted an information request to see if the Government have had a reality check and rerun their projections.

“If they have, this will show the need for a much more ambitious and comprehensive plan to tackle air pollution across the country, not just in a handful of cities.

“We want the new Government to immediately commit to introducing a national network of ‘clean air zones’ which phase out the use of diesel in our most polluted towns and cities. This needs to be backed by a range of measures to make sure the government and industry support the phase out financially and the ordinary motorist isn’t left with a huge bill.”


Commenting on ClientEarth’s claims, a Defra spokesperson said: “Our plans clearly set out how we will improve the UK’s air quality through a new programme of Clean Air Zones, which alongside national action and continued investment in clean technologies, will create cleaner, healthier air for all.

“We have always been open about the difference between real world and laboratory testing for diesel cars and our plans, based on the best available and most reliable data, take this into account.

“We cannot comment on ongoing legal proceedings.”


ClientEarth won its case for clean air against the government in April last year when the Supreme Court ordered ministers to come up with plans to bring air pollution to within legal limits as soon as possible (see story).

According to ClientEarth, the government’s subsequent air quality plans, which were released in December 2015, were ‘completely inadequate’ and as such the group is taking Defra back to court on 18 and 19 October this year (see story).

The organisation is also launching a series of clean air cases across Europe in the autumn.

Related links

Defra air quality plan for nitrogen dioxide 

Government report on vehicle emissions 


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