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ENVIRONMENT

German truckers also ‘manipulated’ emissions devices

German authorities have identified hundreds of trucks "manipulated" to save their operators money by shutting off exhaust treatment systems, saying many more cheating vehicles could be at large on Europe's roads.

German truckers also 'manipulated' emissions devices
Trucks parked in Freudenberg, North-Rhine Westphalia. Photo: DPA

Of around 13,000 trucks whose “AdBlue” filter system was checked on German roads last year, 300 were “defective”, a government answer to a parliamentary question from the Greens party seen Tuesday by AFP showed.

Of 132 such defects spotted since August last year, 84 could be traced back to deliberate manipulation rather than a technical fault, the government added — a distinction not drawn in statistics collected before then.

Electronic devices available for around €100 allow users to deactivate the exhaust treatment system, allowing some trucking firms to make massive savings, daily Süddeutsche Zeitung (SZ) reported after revealing the scheme.

But with their catalytic converters switched off, the trucks spew far more harmful pollutants.

“The fact that we are finding more manipulated systems than faulty ones is an alarm signal,” Greens MP Stephan Kühn said.

With time, “the parts needed for the cheating are becoming smaller and smaller and more sophisticated, and therefore more difficult to find” during spot checks, the government added.

The SZ reported that operators can save up to one-third of the costs of running a truck supposedly meeting the Euro 5 or 6 emissions standard by installing one of the boxes or modifying software — an even harder-to-detect option.

Devices or software changes can enable cheating in a number of ways.

Some fool the engine control software into thinking the catalytic converter is still working, preventing a warning to the driver or an automatic reduction in performance.

Others produce fake readings for the outside temperature, triggering a system that deactivates exhaust treatment at below -11 Celsius.

Clusters of similar rule-breaking have been identified elsewhere in Europe, especially in Spain.

Without exhaust treatment, trucks emit far more nitrogen oxides (NOx), which studies have shown is linked to various respiratory and cardiovascular diseases.

Since Volkswagen admitted in 2015 to cheating emissions tests on 11 million vehicles worldwide, alarm has spread in Germany about levels of the gas in city air.

Federal, state and local governments are battling to prevent drivers of older diesel vehicles being banned from city centres as courts order a growing number of exclusion zones.

SEE ALSO: EU to sue Germany over Volkswagen emissions scandal

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ENVIRONMENT

Young activists take German states to court over climate inaction

Campaigners began a legal challenge against five German regions on Monday to force them to take stronger action on climate change, emboldened by a landmark recent court ruling in favour of environmental protection.

Young activists take German states to court over climate inaction
Demonstrators from the Fridays for Future movement protest in Gießen, Hesse, with a sign saying "No wishy-washy, no climate lashing". Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Frank Rumpenhorst

The plaintiffs are basing their case on a sensational verdict by Germany’s constitutional court in April which found that Germany’s plans to curb CO2 emissions were insufficient to meet the targets of the Paris climate agreement and placed an unfair burden on future generations.

In a major win for activists, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s federal government then brought forward its date for carbon neutrality by five years to 2045, and raised its 2030 target for greenhouse gas reductions.

READ ALSO: 

On Monday, 16 children and young adults began proceedings against the regions of Hesse, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania and Saarland, with support of environmental NGO Environmental Action Germany (DUH).

They are charging that none of the states targeted by the legal action have passed sufficiently strong climate legislation at the local level, according to DUH.

“The federal government can’t succeed on its own,” lead lawyer Remo Klinger said in a press conference, highlighting state competence in the area of transport.

DUH worked closely together with the youth climate movement Fridays For Future to find activists willing to front the challenges, the group said.

Seventeen-year-old plaintiff Alena Hochstadt said the western state of Hesse, known for its Frankfurt banking hub, had always been her home but she feared having “no future here”.

Concern about the risk of “floods, storms and droughts” led her and other campaigners to seek “a legal basis for binding climate protection”.

READ ALSO: Climate change made German floods ‘more likely and more intense’

Hesse’s ministers for climate and the economy said they were “surprised” by the announcement.

“DUH clearly has not yet understood that we in Hesse are well ahead,” Priska Hinz and Tarek Al-Wazir said in a joint statement, drawing attention to an energy future law from 2012, before the Paris climate agreement.

In July, DUH-supported activists took the states of Bavaria, North Rhine-Westphalia and Brandenburg to court on similar grounds.

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