A court in Bucharest has annulled the city authorities’ Air Quality Plan, marking an important win in the fight for clean air in Romania’s capital.

Although the exact reasoning of the court’s ruling has yet to be published, the decision of Bucharest County Court means that city authorities must now prepare a new air quality plan.

Three Romanian NGOs – Centre for Sustainable Policies “Ecopolis” OPTAR and 2Celsius – and individuals including lawyer Marius Petroiu launched their claims against the Bucharest Municipality in 2019. They challenged Bucharest authorities’ ineffective plans to reduce illegal levels of air pollution.

In Bucharest, the daily limit of particulate matter (PM10) – a harmful pollutant – has persistently been exceeded, ever since EU law became applicable in Romania. Illegal annual levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) have also been recorded. According to EU law, local authorities in Bucharest are obliged to prepare and adopt an air quality plan for the capital region when its residents are exposed to harmful and illegal levels of air pollution.

The groups have argued that Bucharest’s current plan to improve air quality did not include measures that would achieve legal levels of air pollution in the “shortest time possible” as required by law. The plan also failed to include a detailed timetable for implementing the measures or to assess their expected impact. Furthermore, it didn’t include measures that would sufficiently address emissions from the transport sector – an important contributor to air pollution in the city.

Costel Popa from Ecopolis said: “An in-depth analysis, conducted by Ecopolis, showed that almost all the measures proposed in the PICA do not comply with the legal requirements to be quantifiable and effective in solving specific problems. They are so elusive that it is impossible to assess their possible impact. Clearly, the content of the plan does not meet its objectives.”

Marian Ivan from OPTAR said: “Having carefully studied the Plan, we were convinced that the reduction of pollution would not be achieved in the shortest time. Ironically, the Plan explicitly stated that in the absence of transport related measures, the traffic in Bucharest would increase, and so would – implicitly – the pollution. We expect that the new plan the Administration is now required to prepare will include efficient transport related measures which will eventually reduce harmful emissions.”

Raul Cazan from 2Celsius said: “This court case is setting a precedent by which Romanian citizens and environmental groups demonstrate sufficient connection to and harm from the acts or actions of local authorities. This is only the beginning as numerous Romanian cities are recording abysmal values of particulate matter and NOx sourcing mainly in transport, but also in waste burning and industrial operations. We encourage citizens in other Romanian cities to organise, empower themselves, take local governments to court and thus exercise their right to clean air.

Agnieszka Warso-Buchanan, a lawyer from the environmental charity ClientEarth which supports Ecopolis’s air quality campaign said: “Today’s ruling is a victory for the residents of Bucharest and their right to breathe clean air. For years, the Bucharest authorities have failed to tackle the air pollution crisis in the city, endangering the health of its citizens. We hope the authorities will now take immediate steps to comply with their legal obligation to protect citizens from the impacts of breathing harmful and illegal air and prepare new, effective air quality plan for Bucharest.”

The Court of Justice of the European Union recently condemned Romania for not meeting its obligations to improve air quality, ruling that the country has systematically violated air quality norms in Bucharest. In May 2020, the European Commission sent a letter of formal notice to Romania giving it four months to take necessary measures to address – amongst others – illegal levels of NO2  in the agglomeration of Bucharest.

The court decision means that Bucharest must now prepare a new air quality plan. Subsequently the Romanian capital is joining other European capitals and cities (e.g. Prague, Bratislava, Brno or Ostrava) where authorities must take stronger action towards air pollution as result of citizens’-initiated litigations.

Note to editors:

  • Nitrogen oxides are harmful gas emitted mainly by diesel vehicles and are the main source of the illegal levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) in more than 130 cities across the EU. Air pollution is linked to higher rate of cancers, heart diseases, heart attacks and asthma attacks. It can also lead to low birth weight and stunted lung development in children.
  • Air pollution may be considered a public health emergency in Romania. According to European Environment Agency,more than 26,000 premature deaths in Romania could be attributed to air pollution in 2016.
  • The final ruling only relates to the claim brought by Optar, Marius Petroiu and 2Celsius. ClientEarth’s and Ecopolis’s claims were rejected. The full reasoning behind this decision has not yet been published, but it should be made public within 30 days following the ruling.

ClientEarthis a charity that uses the power of the law to protect people and the planet. We are international lawyers finding practical solutions for the world’s biggest environmental challenges. We are fighting climate change, protecting oceans and wildlife, making forest governance stronger, greening energy, making business more responsible and pushing for government transparency. We believe the law is a tool for positive change. From our offices in London, Brussels, Warsaw, Berlin and Beijing, we work on laws throughout their lifetime, from the earliest stages to implementation. And when those laws are broken, we go to court to enforce them.

Center for Sustainable Policies Ecopolisis a Romanian environmental organization concerned with the problem of urban pollution for over a decade. In 2011, the organization launched the first independent study on the effects of air pollution in Bucharest on human health and since then has carried out numerous advocacy actions to promote measures to combat urban pollution. In December 2019, together with the ETA2U Foundation and 2Celsius as partners, launched the independent air quality measurement platform Aerlive.ro. The platform aims at monitoring the pollution in Bucharest and at informing the citizens about its effects.

OPTAR(Organization for the Promotion of Alternative Transport in Romania) is an association that supports the development of urban mobility by offering viable travel alternatives for citizens, no matter how they choose to travel: on foot, by bicycle, by public transport or by car.

2Celsius is a European climate-centered advocacy and research organization from Central and Eastern Europe, registered in Romania. A full-fledged member of the main EU environmental networks such as Transport & Environment, European Environmental Bureau, and Climate Action Network, 2C, over more than decade rolled projects related to clean transports, biodiversity conservation, bioenergy, and climate policies. 2C is also focusing on strategic litigation in climate and environmental causes at both European Court of Justice and national Courts.