Government Sued by Charity Due to Diesel Emission Devices

The automotive industry also has a crucial role to play in reducing emissions.


Diesel engines have long been known to emit harmful nitrogen oxides (NOx) and particulate matter (PM) into the atmosphere. These pollutants have been linked to severe respiratory problems and premature deaths. In response to these concerns, many governments worldwide have implemented regulations to reduce diesel emissions from vehicles.

However, recent revelations suggest that some diesel car manufacturers may have installed devices to cheat emissions tests and emit more NOx and PM than regulations allow. This scandal has prompted legal action against governments accused of failing to regulate the car industry effectively.

The latest country to be sued by a charity over diesel emissions is the UK. The environmental law firm ClientEarth is taking legal action against the government for failing to reduce air pollution to legal limits.

What Are Defeat Devices? 

Defeat devices are software systems installed in diesel vehicles that allow them to cheat emissions tests. These devices can detect when a car is being tested for emissions and adjust the engine’s performance accordingly to meet the required standards. However, once the vehicle is back on the road, the same engine performance results in far higher emissions levels.

This practice was brought to light in the Volkswagen (VW) scandal in 2015, which involved the German car manufacturer cheating emissions tests in millions of diesel vehicles. Since then, regulators around the world have stepped up their scrutiny of diesel vehicles to ensure that they meet emissions standards under real-world driving conditions.

New Scandal Involving Defeat Devices

According to ClientEarth, the retrofitting of diesel engines represents an effective way of reducing harmful emissions and improving air quality. Retrofitting involves fitting vehicles with new engines that meet emissions standards, which can significantly reduce toxic emissions produced by diesel vehicles.

The charity argues that manufacturers should pay the bill for this retrofitting, rather than taxpayers. It claims that the government has failed to properly regulate the automotive industry and that as a result, taxpayers are now being forced to bear the cost of retrofitting.

The legal case launched by ClientEarth marks the latest in a series of attempts to hold the UK government accountable over levels of diesel emissions. In 2021, the government was found to be in breach of European law over its failure to address illegal levels of air pollution. The EU Court of Justice ruling led to the government being ordered by the courts to implement a new clean air plan.

According to ClientEarth, the current situation represents a failure of the government to act in the interests of public health. The charity has argued that the use of defeat devices has put public health at risk and has accused the government of failing to take adequate steps to address the issue.

Why It Matters

Diesel engines have long been a mainstay of the transport industry, mainly due to their fuel efficiency and lower carbon dioxide emissions. However, diesel engines also release nitrogen dioxide, a toxic gas, which can cause respiratory problems and harm the environment. It was for this reason that the European Union (EU) introduced emissions standards for diesel engines. 

Since 2009, all new diesel vehicles have had to comply with the Euro 5 emission standards, which aim to reduce nitrogen dioxide emissions limit to 180 milligrams per kilometre (mg/km). The Euro 6 emission standards were introduced in 2015, at the height of the Dieselgate scandal. However, even pollution from these lower emissions standards can be harmful, particularly for young children, the elderly, and those with pre-existing health conditions, such as asthma.

Photo by Gustavo Fring from Pexels

The issue of diesel emissions and air pollution is an important one for public health. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that around 7 million people die prematurely each year as a result of exposure to air pollution.

In the UK, air pollution is estimated to cause around 40,000 premature deaths each year. The government’s figures indicate that most of these deaths are caused by particulate matter, largely produced by diesel vehicles.

The Way Forward

If the governments fail to act or respond, ClientEarth has the option of taking further legal action. Moving forward, the reduction of diesel emissions requires a multi-faceted approach. Governments must ensure more robust enforcement of regulations that limit the amount of pollutants that vehicles can emit, as well as provide incentives to encourage the adoption of cleaner and more sustainable forms of transportation.

The automotive industry also has a crucial role to play in reducing emissions. Car manufacturers must develop cleaner technologies and invest in producing electric, hybrid, and hydrogen vehicles to reduce the number of diesel vehicles on the road.

Individuals can also make a difference by choosing cleaner forms of transportation, such as cycling, walking, or taking public transport, where possible. Advocating for stronger environmental regulations and spreading awareness about the harms of diesel emissions is also essential in promoting real change. Click here to start filing a diesel emissions claim with the help of experts.

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