Diesel and petrol pumps

Diesel ban in German cities permitted by court ruling

Image credit: Dreamstime

A court ruling has stated that German cities may ban heavily polluting diesel cars in an effort to cut down air pollution in urban areas.

Many cities in Germany exceed the EU limits on nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions. NOx reacts with compounds in the atmosphere to form and destroy ozone, causing respiratory damage when inhaled. NOx emissions are associated with heightened risk of emphysema and bronchitis, as well as heart disease.

The Volkswagen emissions scandal of 2015 – in which the German automaker admitted to cheating emissions tests with illegal software, releasing far higher levels of NOx with its vehicles than it appeared – has led to a global backlash against diesel cars. Previously, Germany had promoted diesel as an environmentally friendly alternative to petrol, due to its superior fuel economy.

Since the scandal, other automakers – including Porsche, Renault and Audi – have faced similar accusations of cheating emissions tests and sales of diesel vehicles have been falling in Europe.

Now, the Federal Administrative Court in Leipzig has ordered that Stuttgart – often referred to as the birthplace of modern cars – should consider a full ban on older, more polluting diesel cars from September 2019, while Dusseldorf should also consider laying down restrictions. Crucially, the court has ruled that diesel bans can be applied locally.

The ruling was celebrated by local activists and environmental groups, but condemned as inappropriate by other parties.

“This is a great day for clean air in Germany,” said Juergen Resch, managing director of the environmental group, DUH, which brought the cases to court after approximately 70 German cities failed to remain within EU limits for NOx emissions in 2017.

“Driving bans have a massive impact on our ownership rights, on mobility and on our profession,” said Hans Peter Wollseifer, president of the association of German tradesmen. “The carmakers are to blame for the diesel problem, not us tradesmen.”

Following the ruling, the government of Hamburg has announced that it will introduce restrictions on polluting diesel vehicles from May this year. Chancellor Angela Merkel has said that the government will hold talks with local authorities on how to proceed with proposed, although she added that the government – which opposed the bans – hopes that automakers could avert future bans by improving their emissions systems.

“We must do everything possible to prevent the loss of personal freedom and the reduction in value of cars,” said Christian Schmidt, the German Minister for Transport.

Copenhagen intends to ban new diesel cars from entering the city as early as 2019, while a number of other major cities – including Paris, Madrid and Athens – have announced plans to ban diesel vehicles from their centres by 2025.

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