Dieselgate scandal: Five years on – Why the fight for clean air is not over

March 1, 2022

Pogust Goodhead hosted an online panel event on 9 February 2022, which centred on the ongoing impact of the Dieselgate scandal in the UK and the continuing impact on the environment and public health.   

Neil Parish MP, Chair of the UK Parliament’s Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, was a part of the panel for the event, alongside an array of experts and campaigners for clean air.  

Since the scandal first broke in 2015, several high-profile car manufacturers were found to have fitted defeat devices in their vehicles, concealing the illegal levels of emissions they emit.  

The US, Canada, Germany, and Australia reacted swiftly to Dieselgate by imposing criminal sanctions, implementing recall orders, and securing compensation payments to victims. 

Justice in the UK continues to lag far behind. 

Five years have passed since Volkswagen’s settlement in the US. Yet, the offending cars continue to be sold and driven throughout the UK.  

Currently, Pogust Goodhead represents over 550,000 drivers, but with an estimated 8.5 million tampered diesel vehicles still on UK roads, the fight for justice and cleaner air is far from over.   

ClientEarth  

We were delighted to have Katie Nield, ClientEarth’s UK Clean Air Lawyer, as our chair for the Dieselgate event.  

ClientEarth is one of the world’s most ambitious environmental organisations, dedicated to protecting life by focusing on the most pressing environmental challenges. They actively lobby for more ambitious government policies and laws to better protect the environment, alongside raising awareness on the damage to health caused by air pollution.   

As chair of our event, we were particularly grateful for Katie’s insightful contributions and insights, particularly surrounding the new Environment Act, and the legal duty it places on the UK Secretary of State on setting and meeting emissions targets. Without a doubt, new legal routes such as these could be instrumental in mandating new regulations for car manufacturers to make sure we never see another Dieselgate.  

“Dieselgate remains a hugely pervasive issue and has yet to be addressed. The fact is that the UK Government has not stepped up to require manufacturers to address this legacy of scandal and it is people’s health in towns and cities across the country that has to bear the brunt of this failure.” 
– Katie Nield, UK Clean Air Expert Lawyer, ClientEarth 

Neil Parish MP 

Serving as Member of Parliament for Tiverton and Honiton since 2010 and Chair of the prestigious Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Parliamentary Committee since 2015, Neil Parish MP has long campaigned for protecting the environment and improving air quality in the UK.  

As a key member of our panel, Neil spoke passionately about reducing the number of diesel vehicles on our roads and the need to support those on lower incomes to bring about lasting and meaningful change in this area.    

Mums For Lungs 

Mums for Lungs is a grassroots network of activists, first set up by a group of mums in 2017 who were becoming increasingly concerned about the levels of air pollution on London’s streets.  

We were so pleased that Jemima Hartshorn, the organisation’s founder, joined our panel to provide alternative perspectives on the air pollution crisis. The conversation benefited from Jemima’s illumination of the general lack of public awareness and education on the impacts and causes of air pollution, as well as her constructive solutions proposed to combat rising levels of emissions across London and the UK.  

“Air pollution affects everyone. It is a circular crisis; air pollution will cause underlying health issues and then, as a result, people become more vulnerable to it.” 

 – Jemima Hartshorn, Founder, Mums for Lungs 

Asthma UK/British Lung Foundation  

Since 2020, charities Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation (BLF) have merged to form a new partnership, serving as a powerful advocate and voice for everyone in the UK living with respiratory illnesses and diseases.  

Joining our panel, Tim Dexter, their Clean Air Lead, spoke about the ongoing work of his organisation in tracking the impact of emissions and air pollution. He noted that although public awareness is rising, more needs to be done to continue raising awareness of the connection between respiratory health and global emissions, particularly those from diesel vehicles.   

Air pollution is the biggest environmental threat to human health with 36,000 people dying every year with illnesses related to air pollution. The links between respiratory health and air pollution are being made, and we need to continue to shout about it more and more.”
-Tim Dexter, Clean Air Lead, Asthma UK / British Lung Foundation 

Pogust Goodhead  

Our very own Managing Partner, Tom Goodhead, played an instrumental part in the discussion. As a key figure in the litigation against the offending car manufacturers, Tom provided essential insights into Pogust Goodhead’s ongoing fight to bring justice to the 550,000 individuals we represent. Tom highlighted the often-overlooked element of Dieselgate: as the value of the vehicles decrease because of these “defeat devices”, which serves to incentivise their second-hand sale, not only are faulty vehicles kept on the road but those who are less well off in society are disproportionately impacted.   

It is clear that six years on, Volkswagen was just the tip of the iceberg. Coming out of a two-year pandemic, the focus on public health has never been greater, there is increased public awareness of these issues, on respiratory health in particular. We must address the Dieselgate scandal to protect respiratory health.” 

 -Tom Goodhead, Managing Partner, Pogust Goodhead 

Pogust Goodhead is very grateful for the contributions from all of the panel’s experts and for the insightful questions that arose from cross-party parliamentarians in the Q&A.  

We look forward to hosting more events like this to raise awareness of the environmental and social issues we tackle on a daily basis. 

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