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Ruling on diesel car ban in German cities due next week

A ruling by Germany's highest court on whether two major cities can ban diesel cars because of air pollution concerns has been delayed until next Tuesday.

The landmark ruling in lower courts in relation to the city centres of Stuttgart and Düsseldorf could dramatically hit the value of 15 million diesel cars on the country’s roads.

As many as 70 German cities experienced high levels of nitrogen dioxide emissions in 2017 that were above EU thresholds.

Diesel cars were said to be responsible for 72.5 per cent of the harmful compound which affects the respiratory system.

Judge Andreas Korbmacher said Germany’s highest federal administrative court would now rule on 27 February on an appeal brought by German states against bans imposed by local courts in Stuttgart and Duesseldorf over poor air quality.

“We still see a considerable need for guidance,” he said.

The states’ solicitors have appealed over the local rulings arguing that the prohibitions amount to ‘dispossession of diesel owners’ and are unlawful.

If the appeal is rejected, dozens of cities would have a just few months to enact measures to remove heavily polluting diesel vehicles from the roads.

There has been a global backlash against diesel-engine cars since Volkswagen admitted in 2015 to cheating US exhaust tests, meant to limit emissions of particulate matter and nitrogen oxide (NOx), known to cause respiratory disease.

Last year software updates started rolling out for five million diesel cars in Germany to reduce their emissions after a deal was hashed out between automakers and the government. 

While other countries are also considering restrictions on diesel cars, bans in the birthplace of the modern automobile would be a new blow for the car industry, and an embarrassment for Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government, which has backed it.

The Leipzig court is due to rule on whether bans imposed by local courts are legal after environmental group DUH sued city authorities. The DUH is also seeking bans in other German cities.

“Everything is still open, but we are much more optimistic,” DUH chief Juerger Resch said after Thursday’s proceedings, noting the judge had made clear that European pollution limits were non-negotiable and must be complied with quickly.

“We are convinced that the court will make its own decision. And we also want a national decision.”

Germany has long promoted diesel to help cut carbon dioxide emissions and meet climate change goals, but the Volkswagen (VW) scandal has pushed its carmakers to step up spending on electric cars, as well as investments into making diesel engines cleaner.

During proceedings in Leipzig on Thursday, lawyers discussed whether the government would have to introduce a new way of labelling cars to enable authorities to enforce any bans.

Merkel’s government, which has come under fire for its close ties to the car industry, has lobbied against bans, fearing they could anger millions of drivers and disrupt traffic in cities, with public transport not in a position to take up the slack.

Meanwhile, authorities in Paris, Madrid, Mexico City and Athens have said they plan to ban diesel vehicles from city centres by 2025, while the mayor of Copenhagen wants to ban new diesel cars from entering the city as soon as next year.

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