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Austrian NGOs take legal action for clean air

In Austria, the air pollutant emission limits have been considerably exceeded for years. The annual limit values for nitrogen dioxide go past both the allowable annual limit of national Austrian Ambient Air Quality Act of 35µg/m³, as well as the EU’s limit of 40µg/m³. The responsibility for easing pollution in Austria lies within the responsibility of the nine federal states. Now NGOs have taken legal action towards Salzburg, one of the Austrian states not complying with emission limits.

The Austrian NGO Ökobüro is specialized on legal affairs and has with the support of the NGOs VCÖ- Mobilität mit Zukunft (Partner of the Clean Air Project co-financed by LIFE+), Greenpeace, GLOBAL 2000 and The Austrian Doctors for a Healthy Environment taken legal action against the state Salzburg for not providing sufficient measures in order to comply with the air quality objectives. Regarding potential new measures, VCÖ points out that an immediate extension of the public transport system and the decrease of heavy vehicle traffic are crucial. Further promising possibilities could be a city congestion charge combined with a low-emission zone as well as permanent lower speed limits.

The necessity of improving the air quality lies within the hazardous effects of nitrogen dioxide. A high level of this gas in air provokes inflammation of respiratory tracts, asthma as well as effects on lung-function and lung-growth in children.

It is the first time Austrian NGOs take this move and the first hurdle is to have the Austrian State accept that a NGO is indeed entitled to do so. The legal background is as follows: Austria has not implemented the Aarhus Convention and the decisions of the Court of Justice of the European Union. Hence neither environmental organizations nor citizens, have the right to take legal actions to require the competent national authorities to take measures. Claiming measures, Austrian NGOs demand their right for legal actions which can clearly be deduced from the Aarhus Convention and the principle of efficiency of Union law.

Ökobüro English summary "The NGO’s right to clean-air"