AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - A Dutch court on Thursday ordered the government to take immediate action to limit air pollution, as emissions in various parts of the country were in breach of European rules.
The case was brought by environmental activists, and the ruling marked their second victory in a legal campaign against what they consider the government's wilful failure to act on pollution and climate change.
"Limits on the emissions of particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide are still being violated, although they should have been restricted to the permitted levels long ago", the District Court in The Hague said. "This the responsibility of the state."
Caretaker Deputy Environment Minister Sharon Dijksma said the government would speed up existing plans to improve air quality in problem areas, such as city centers.
"The judge is forcing the state to better protect the health of its citizens", spokeswoman Anne Knol of environmentalist group Milieudefensie said. "This is a major breakthrough."
In a landmark decision in 2015, the same court ordered the government to cut carbon dioxide emissions to at least a quarter below 1990 levels by 2020. Estimates published this week showed emissions were 11 percent lower in 2016.
The health ministry has warned that current levels of nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter emissions, mainly caused by road traffic and factories, can lead to respiratory illnesses, with chronic exposure shortening life expectancy by more than a year.
Emissions of particulate matter should have been limited six years ago, while the deadline to adhere to European rules on nitrogen dioxide was the start of 2015.
The court therefore ordered the government to take immediate measures to improve air quality and said that current plans to do so fell short of European and national regulations. It also banned the government from taking steps that would lead to further violations of European emissions rules.
(Reporting by Bart Meijer; editing by John Stonestreet)