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POLLUTION

Cologne and Bonn hit with diesel ban orders

The Cologne administrative court said Cologne must ban the dirtiest diesels from its centre and other streets from April 2019 to tackle dangerously high levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) emissions.

Cologne and Bonn hit with diesel ban orders
Cologne is one of the cities to be slapped with a diesel ban. Photo: DPA

The Cologne administrative court said Cologne must ban the dirtiest diesels from its centre and other streets from April 2019 to tackle dangerously high levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) emissions.

In the smaller city of Bonn, the restrictions would apply to only two streets.

The ruling, which can be appealed, is the latest victory for German environmental group DUH which has launched a raft of court cases to force local authorities to boost air quality.

Major urban areas including Stuttgart, Frankfurt and the capital Berlin have already been slapped with legal orders to cut emissions, while Hamburg decided of its own accord to expel the worst polluters from some zones.

Unpopular driving bans

Faced with mounting public anger, Chancellor Angela Merkel's government is scrambling to ward off the unpopular driving bans that promise to not only cause transport upheaval but further hammer the resale value of diesels.

Diesel engines have come under intense scrutiny since Volkswagen admitted in 2015 to installing cheating software in millions of cars to dupe emissions tests.

The scam made the cars seem far less polluting in labs than they were on the road, and suspicions of similar trickery have since spread to other carmakers as well.

But the country's mighty car giants have been stubborn in their refusal to foot the bill for cleaning up diesels in order to bring them into compliance with EU law.

The government wants automakers like Daimler, VW and BMW to pay for hardware fixes to retrofit older diesels with more effective exhaust treatment systems.

But carmakers have so far responded mainly by offering software upgrades for newer diesels and trade-in bonuses — which would still leave drivers shelling out thousands for new cars.

Law could exempt cities from bans

Merkel is also backing a proposed law that would exempt cities from diesel bans when only “minor” infractions against legal pollution limits have been registered.

A total of 65 German cities last year recorded NO2 levels that surpassed European norms of 40 microgrammes per cubic metre of air.

In Cologne, the level spiked to 62 microgrammes while Bonn peaked at 47.

Nitrogen oxides (NOx) including NO2 are estimated to cause thousands of premature deaths in Germany each year.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the gases aggravate asthma and bronchitis symptoms and are linked to cardiovascular and respiratory disease.

Member comments

  1. Ever since Germany banned nuclear power, it’s relying more on coal for electricity.

    Isn’t it entirely possible that electric cars cause more CO2 emissions than diesel?

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POLLUTION

‘Infringement on air quality’: EU court slams Germany for pollution in cities

The EU's top court ruled on Thursday that Germany continually violated upper limits for nitrogen dioxide, a polluting gas from diesel motors that causes major health problems, over several years.

'Infringement on air quality': EU court slams Germany for pollution in cities
Cars sit in traffic in Stuttgart's Hauptstätter Straße in July 2020. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Sebastian Gollnow

Germany infringed air quality rules “by systematically and persistently exceeding” the annual nitrogen dioxide limit in 26 out of 89 areas from 2010 to 2016, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) said in its ruling.

The European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, referred the matter to the ECJ in 2018 after almost a decade of warnings that went unaddressed.

The decision against Europe’s top economy echoes a ruling targeting France in October 2019 after the commission stepped up its anti-pollution fight in the wake of the so-called “Dieselgate” scandal that erupted in 2015 with revelations about Germany’s Volkswagen.

The motors caught up in the scandal — in which automakers installed
special emission-cheating devices into their car engines — are the main emitters of nitrogen oxides that the European Environment Agency says are responsible for 68,000 premature deaths per year in the EU.

READ ALSO: Five things to know about Germany’s dieselgate scandal

Nitrogen dioxide is toxic and can cause significant respiratory problems as one of the main constituents of traffic-jam smog.

Under EU rules, member countries are required to keep the gas to under 40 micrograms per cubic metre — but that level is often exceeded in many traffic-clogged European cities.

The judgement opens the way to possible sanctions at a later stage. However the air quality throughout much of Germany has improved in the last five years, particularly during the shutdowns in the pandemic.

The environment ministry said that 90 cities exceeded national pollution limits in 2016 — the final year covered by the court ruling. By 2019, the number had fallen to 25 and last year, during the coronavirus outbreak, it was just six.

The case involved 26 areas in Germany, including Berlin, Hamburg, Munich and Stuttgart as well as urban and rural areas in North Rhine-Westphalia, Mainz, Worms/Frankenthal/Ludwigshafen and Koblenz/Neuwied.

“Furthermore, Germany infringed the directive by systematically and
persistently exceeding, during that period, the hourly limit value for NO2 in two of those zones” — the Stuttgart area and the Rhine-Main region.

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