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Bulgarian citizens turn to court over air pollution in Sofia

Bulgarian citizens court Sofia air pollution

Photo: Martin Lazarov from Pixabay

Published

June 3, 2021

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Published:

June 3, 2021

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Six people filed a legal complaint in Bulgaria over the capital city’s air quality plan. Numerous environmental lawsuits are springing up in the world and some victories have been won.

Six Bulgarian citizens have taken legal action against the authorities in Sofia over illegal and harmful levels of air pollution in the capital. The challenge was brought in partnership with the Za Zemiata organization and supported by environmental law charity ClientEarth.

The groups argue the new air quality plan for Sofia would not enable the reduction of levels of air pollution in the city to within the legal limits by 2024, as promised by the Sofia Municipality.

The citizens claim the authorities’ failure to effectively address illegal levels of air pollution is a violation of their right to breathe clean air. A man suffering from acute asthma, a family with young children who live near a highly congested road and an amateur female runner are among the citizens that filed the complaint.

Some of the plaintiffs are a man suffering from acute asthma, a family with young children who live near a highly congested road and an amateur female runner

According to the groups, the plan doesn’t clearly outline the measures the city intends to take to reduce air pollution in the shortest time possible, as required by Bulgarian and European Union law.

“The residents of Sofia have been living with dirty air for more than 10 years and have been waiting for a bold plan that finally addresses this health crisis and reduces the thousands of premature deaths linked to polluted air. Unfortunately, the Municipality of Sofia has once again failed to deliver this,” Ivaylo Hlebarov from Za Zemiata said. “Public resources should be used to tackle illegal levels of air pollution quickly and effectively, not wasted on obscure measures, with no tangible way to assess whether they actually work.”

EU in legal dispute with Bulgaria over air pollution

Bulgarian courts have so far refused to recognize the right of citizens and organizations to go to court and appeal air quality plans, as, according to the courts, the effectiveness of these plans does not affect their rights, ClientEarth said.

The government of Bulgaria is already facing a trial before the EU Court of Justice for breaches in air pollution

The European Commission started an infringement procedure in May of last year against Bulgaria’s barriers to access to justice matters, the organization added. Also, the EU’s executive body referred the government to the EU Court of Justice for breaches in air pollution and reprimanded it for its track record in environmental protection.

“When authorities fail to uphold their duty to protect people’s health, the law should enable people to exercise their right to hold authorities to account. But Bulgarian courts have time and again refused people this right. It’s time that this changes,” ClientEarth’s lawyer Agnieszka Warso-Buchanan said.

Severe air pollution in Sofia, whole country

The groups must now wait to see whether they will be granted the right to go to court. If they are, a date for a hearing will then be set.

For the last 10 years, Sofia has failed to meet the legal air quality standards for fine dust particles in the PM10 category. Over the past decade, air quality has gradually improved. However, in 2020, more than half of the capital’s monitoring stations recorded illegal levels of PM10 more than 35 times over the course of the year.

Citizens have recently declared victories in environmental cases at courts in the Netherlands and Australia

According to European Environment Agency, in 2018 as much as 65% of Bulgaria’s urban population was exposed to concentrations of PM10 which were above EU standards. Annual levels of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) have not been recorded in the city for the past three years due to insufficient data.

The Federal Court of Australia has recently ruled environment minister Sussan Ley has a duty of care to protect the country’s youth from the climate crisis. In a case that environmentalists and 17,000 Dutch citizens raised against Shell, The Hague District Court told the company to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 45% from 2019 levels by the end of the decade.

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