Legal situation

The French law on “Air Quality and the Rational Use of Energy” (LAURE) dated 30 September 1996 (normally referred to as the “air quality law”) was already ahead of the European provisions. The main aim of this law is to “implement the recognised right of each person to breathe air that is not harmful to their health”. It included monitoring air quality, the development of forward planning tools and setting up technical measures, fiscal and financial provisions, controls and penalties. The French air quality law transposes the EU Directive accurately into national legislation. There are no differences between the limit values for pollutant concentration in order to maintain teh air quality.

Accordingly, the limit value for particulate matter was set at 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air, which may be exceeded on a maximum of 35 days a year. The average annual value for nitrogen dioxide was set at 40 µg/m³.

The EU Directive obliges cities and municipalities to draw up action plans for air pollution control. The air quality law sets up specific planning tools for local management of air pollution issues. The Local Climate-Energy Plan (PCET) evaluate air pollution and define the directions for reducing air pollution  over a whole region. This plan is reviewed at least on a five-years basis, by the Regional Council. Atmosphere protection plans (PPA) are actually provided for all agglomerations with more than 250.000 people and other polluted zones and prepared under the responsibility of departmental Prefects. In addition the Urban Traffic Planning (PDU) defines and coordinates traffic policies in towns with more than 100.000. The aim is to reduce the use of cars by getting more people to use non-polluting public transport systems. By order to “reduce energy consumption and cut down sources emitting polluting substances” restrictive technical measures have been set.

Within the law to promote the development of “clean vehicles” that produce less pollution various tax incentives are provided. Some of the measures described in these plans have been delayed because of budget problems or performed non identified problems. In France there has been investigation into LEZs in a number of cities. The ministry decided that other measures would be taken forward to improve air quality and not to proceed with the LEZ law.

The code de l’environnement sets regulations for the control of air pollution and their effects for health and environment. The environmental ministry nominate an administration responsible for the technical coordination of air quality monitoring. Limit values are developed in line with EU regulations and WHO recommendations. These standards were reviewed continuously relating new results of epidemiological studies.

In case of events with high pollution, like happened in February 2014, there is the possibility to implement short-term measures, regulated under the “Plan d’urgence pour la quality de l’air (PUQA)”. These measures include for example car-sharing, using public transport or  promoting cycling and walking. More measures can be found here: http://www.developpement-durable.gouv.fr/Favoriser-le-developpement-de.html

Your right to clean air

If the limit values are not met due to the lack of regulations or measures, citizens may legally enforce the implementation of such measures. Initially, cities where limit values are exceeded regularly may be requested by applications to take immediate action to comply with the EU limit values. In such cases, cities have a defined time to comply with the request and to draw up or further develop a clean air plan.

If the city or municipality does not take any action within this period of time that is likely to improve the situation within a reasonable period, individuals affected may sue the authority that is responsible for drawing up such a plan. Anybody living or working most of their time in a polluted environment may take legal action. This means not only residents but also physicians in medical practices on busy roads, for example, or educators in kindergartens or parents for their children, if the kindergarten is located in an area heavily affected by particulate matters. Environmental organisations may also take action on their own under the EU Environmental Law.