Greenpeace sues regional governments over air pollution


The local chapter of the international organisation has filed a complaint against Flanders and Wallonia because they are not doing enough, it says, to limit nitrous oxide emissions

‘Poisoning our children’

The Belgian chapter of environmental organisation Greenpeace is taking legal action against the Flemish and Walloon governments, accusing them of negligence in their approach to air pollution.

The governments have failed “to protect their citizens sufficiently against the severe impact of polluted air on our children,” said Joeri Thijs of the organisation’s Schone Lucht (Clean Air) campaign. “Our country still performs very badly in the area of diesel-related emissions of nitrogen dioxide.”

Greenpeace’s complaint is based on a study commissioned from the Swiss Tropical Medicine and Public Health Institute in Basel, which reviewed the latest scientific literature on the health effects of nitrogen dioxide (NO2). The study concluded that there is no safe level of NO2 emissions: Even if levels are lower than EU limits allow, health-related dangers remain at the same level.

The EU limit of NO2 per cubic metre is 40 micrograms, but, according to the study, exposure to just 10 micrograms increases the chances of developing asthma by 15%.

Greenpeace tested the air quality to which children were exposed in the back seat of a car at various locations in Brussels earlier this month. It found 139 micrograms per cubic metre at the Ganshoren exit to the Leopold II tunnel, 109 micrograms at the Louiza roundabout and 64 micrograms on the Schuman roundabout. “We are collectively poisoning our children,” Thijs said.

A similar action for negligence has already been brought against the government of the Brussels-Capital Region and is due to be heard in November. That was filed by the Brussels chapter of ClientEarth.

According to Flemish environment minister Joke Schauvliege, the data on which the study is based is correct. But she is obliged to follow EU guidelines, she said. “We would prefer for our policy to be determined by parliament and not by the courts,” she said.

The government plans to produce a new clean air plan by the end of the year, she said, which will extend existing measures.