PRESS STATEMENT | LHR Represents UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights and Environment in Critical Air Pollution Case

Date: 17/05/2021

Beginning today, the Pretoria High Court will hear a challenge to government’s longstanding failure to take meaningful steps to combat the toxic levels of ambient air pollution caused by coal-fired power generation projects in the Highveld priority area, situated in Mpumalanga.

LHR represents Professor David Boyd, the UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights and Environment, in his intervention as a friend of the court. Professor Boyd will make submissions regarding international and regional human rights law and instruments and will seek to emphasise to the Court that poor and marginalised communities disproportionately shoulder the burden of toxic air.

The Applicants, environmental justice group, Groundwork, and Mpumalanga community organisation, Vukani Environmental Justice Movement in Action, seek an order declaring that the levels of air pollution in the area are in breach of the constitutional right to an environment that is not harmful to health or well-being and an order declaring that the Minister take meaningful action to implement and enforce the Highveld Air Quality Management Plan.

In his affidavit for the Court, Professor Boyd noted that “[a]ir pollution knows no boundary and has potential to affect everyone, but it can affect us differently….Children, elderly and those with respiratory diseases such as asthma, are the most vulnerable to air pollution….The most vulnerable groups…[tend] to lose if air pollution levels are not properly managed,” says Professor Boyd.

Professor Boyd’s submissions highlight the implications that poor air quality has for a wide range of rights – in particular the right to life, health and children’s rights. The longstanding failure of a government to improve air quality, especially when it has failed to act with necessary urgency in the face of exceeding national air quality standards, is a violation of the right to a healthy environment.

The matter will be heard from 17 – 19 May 2021.

For more information please contact:

Robin Lenahan at or Michael Clements at

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