Europe’s major cities (excluding London) call for diesel emissions crackdown

The Mayors of 20 European cities including Madrid, Paris and Copenhagen - but excluding London - have called for more stringent regulations to be put in place across the continent to tackle the deadly levels of air pollution caused by diesel vehicles.

In a letter published in French newspaper Le Monde this week, the Mayors warn that new governance of EU car emissions – which will effectively see limits on emissions relaxed by 2019 –  is giving the automotive industry the ‘green light’ to overstep limits and endanger public health.

The letter states: “We believe that this decision is unfair and wrong. It is unacceptable to introduce emissions thresholds, only to allow them to be violated. It cannot be right to impose a duty upon public authorities to comply with air pollution standards, while at the same time giving the automotive industry the green light to infringe them.”

In the wake of the Volkswagen emissions scandal, European Member States compromised a deal that to measure ‘real driving emissions’ which, due to conformity factors, could still see new cars emit twice (110%) the legal limit of nitrogen oxide (NOx) without being punished.

The group of Mayors, which also includes signatories from Oslo, Amsterdam and Brussels, warn that failing to address these issues could lead to an increase on the 430,000 Europeans that die each year because of air pollution.

“What can we say to parents whose children are suffering from acute respiratory disorders, or to elderly people and to the most vulnerable?” The Mayors added.

London calling

An invitation to sign the letter was extended to Mayors of Berlin, Rome and London, who all reportedly chose to ignore the call. London Mayor Boris Johnson – who has himeslf called for a diesel scrappage scheme – has defended London’s air pollution levels as he strives to turn the capital into an Ultra-Low Emission Zone.

Johnson and the UK Government have received intense criticism over the air pollution policies – Defra could be set for a visit to court over its ‘woeful’ air quality policies that saw local authorities have their budgets to tackle air issues halved.

The lack of action from the Government has apparently led to 9,500 unnecessary deaths in the capital each year, with London taking just one week to break European air pollution limits. Chancellor George Osborne gave no mention of the critical issue of air quality in his 2016 Budget speech yesterday, but the Government’s full Budget document does include new measures to support the transition to cleaner, zero and ultra-low emission vehicles. 

Polluting politics

But the Budget failed to go far enough on air pollution, according to Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who used his time in the Commons yesterday to accuse Prime Minister David Cameron of ignoring the issue. “The government is now threatened with being to be taken to court for its failure to comply with international law,” Corbyn said. “He is proposing to spend tens if not hundreds of thousands of pounds on defending the indefensible.”

Despite the lack of movement from the Government on air quality, Energy Minister Andrea Leadsom earlier this week announced that the UK will enshrine in law a long-term goal of reducing its carbon emissions to zero. A potential diesel tax could help put that pledge in motion, with the Policy Exchange think tank claiming that a new tax incentive could generate more than £500m to fund a diesel car scrappage scheme.

Matt Mace

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