The UK government will come under renewed pressure to cut pollution from diesel vehicles following the latest ruling in a battle over clean air.

Nitrogen dioxide coming from almost entirely diesel vehicles in cities, is illegally high and the European Court of Justice ruled judges must force ministers to clean up the air as soon as possible. The opinion group who raised up this question is to force ministers to order a major retrofit of pollution controls on buses and lorries; ban diesel cars from cities; and install new technology to ensure that diesel cars comply with the emissions data from manufacturers.

It’s estimated that 29,000 people die early each year from air pollution in the UK. The government is supposed to have cleaned up nitrogen dioxide pollution in cities by 2015 – but has been proposing to achieve the goal by 2030. The UK Supreme Court will now set a standard that the government must achieve – and that will mean the government driving down diesel emissions.

Environmentalists are celebrating the European court victory but it causes major political problems for the government. For many years politicians have encouraged drivers to buy diesel cars because they produce fewer climate-changing CO2 emissions.

A Defra spokesperson said: “Air quality has improved significantly in recent years and average roadside concentrations of NO2 levels have fallen 15% since 2010. We have built on this by committing £2bn since 2011 to increase the uptake of ultra-low emission vehicles, green transport initiatives and supporting local authorities to take action.

“The government is fully committed to ensuring compliance with EU air quality standards and we are revising our plans to reflect recent action so we can be compliant as soon as possible. This is a common challenge across Europe with 17 member states exceeding limits.

The case may be complicated by a review from the new president of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker of pollution laws, which are causing a big problem for many member states.

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