Greenpeace to demand €1,000 for every day Flemish government does not improve air quality

Greenpeace to demand €1,000 for every day Flemish government does not improve air quality
Demir's new plan does not comply with any of the court's demands. Credit: Greenpeace

As the government’s new Flemish air quality plan does not meet the requirements imposed by the court, Greenpeace will send a bailiff to the Minister for Environment, Zuhal Demir.

The air quality plan that Demir submitted in October does not comply with the demands that the court imposed on Flanders in 2018, according to the environmental organisation. A bailiff will urge the Flemish government to pay a penalty of €1,000 for every day it does not comply with the verdict, reports De Morgen.

In 2017, Greenpeace took Flanders to court because it had been exceeding the European standards for nitrogen dioxide (NO2) for almost ten years. NO2, of which over 60% comes from traffic, is a toxic substance and has been linked to asthma and cardiovascular problems. According to scientific research, about 9,000 people die prematurely due to bad air quality in Belgium, reports De Standaard.

The court ruled, in 2018, that Greenpeace was right and that Flanders’ new air quality plan had to tackle the NO2 problem, based on the European directives. The plan had to contain measures to undo the NO2 exceedance as soon as possible, as well as stipulate detailed proposals, including targets and deadlines.

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However, according to Greenpeace, Demir’s new plan does not comply with any of those demands. Additionally, it was announced on Wednesday that the Flemish government has also dropped the idea of taxing high CO2 emissions.

Demir’s plan predicts that Flanders will no longer exceed the European norm by 2025. “That is not ‘as soon as possible’,” said Johan Verstraeten, a lawyer for Greenpeace, reports De Morgen. “We doubt that a judge will accept that for a norm we should have met by 2010. In a similar case in Brussels, the judge ruled that meeting the norm within five years could not be accepted as ‘as soon as possible’,” he added. Additionally, the plan hardly contains any detailed measures or interventions, according to the organisation.

The plan does not provide a credible alternative to the scrapped kilometre tax either, said Joeri Thijs, an expert on air quality at Greenpeace. “Additionally, the plan does not make ultra-low emission zones mandatory. Other proposals, like switching to more environmentally friendly transport, contain few details and have no deadlines, even though Europe and the verdict of our court case demanded it,” he said, reports VRT NWS.

“The plan does meet the requirements and has also been positively received by the opposition in the government,” said Demir in a written statement. “Demanding fines from the taxpayer will not keep the air clean, it only pays for lawyers. Greenpeace is impatient, so am I. But cooperation seems to me to be better than going to court. I am willing to receive the experts from Greenpeace and to discuss the further development of the plan,” she added.

Maïthé Chini
The Brussels Times

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