Mayors request drastic legislation to cut car emissions

A general view showing people around the deserted 'place Charles de Gaulle and the Triumph Arch', during the 'Journee sans voiture' (Car Free Day) action, in Paris, France, 1 October 2017. [Christophe Petit-Tesson [EPA/EFE]

The mayors of nine EU capitals have asked the European institutions to adopt tougher mandatory legislation to minimise air pollution by cars, including a new Euro 7 ‘technologically neutral’ standard for vehicles, and that all vehicle sales be ‘zero emissions’ in the coming two decades.

In a letter dated 25 October 2017, the mayors of Paris, Rome, Amsterdam, Madrid, Copenhagen, Brussels, Helsinki, Vienna and Sofia wrote to the European Commission, the Council and the European Parliament, saying that they need “new tools” for cutting air pollution and CO2 emissions from public transport fleets and private vehicles.

The mayors make reference to the devastating effects of air pollution, quoting research showing that diesel fumes are responsible for the 68,000 premature deaths caused by dangerous nitrogen dioxide (N02).

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“As the average age of vehicles is 15 years, all  vehicle sales need to be zero emission  in  the  coming  two  decades,  with  an  increasing  number  of  governments  already announcing the phase-out dates in the recent months,” the mayors write.

They argue that zero  emission  cars,  vans  and  buses  are  the  future  solution cities  to  provide  clean,  energy-efficient  and  affordable  transport  for  its  citizens.

The mayors also call on the European institutions acting as co-legislators to finalise by the end of 2017 the EU-type approval reform to avoid another diesel emissions scandal and to agree on “ambitious” CO2 standards for cars and vans for 2025 and 2030 that would reduce emissions of conventional vehicles and bring wider deployment of electric vehicles (EVs).

They also called for the introduction of mandatory sales targets for EVs and a Euro 7 emissions limit that would be technologically neutral.

The existing Euro 5, Euro 6 and Euro 6+ standards have different standards for diesel and petrol cars.

On Wednesday (8 November), the European Commission is due to unveil its Clean Mobility Package, a set of proposals linked to a shift towards low-emission mobility.

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Wider context

The mayors’ letter should be seen in the wider context of air quality standards not being met in 23 out of 28 member states.

There are also open infringement cases for NO2 breaches of air pollution limits against Germany, France, Spain, Italy and the United Kingdom (all of these were sent a final warning in February) and; Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Hungary, Poland, and Portugal (all of these at the first stage of infringement – letter of formal notice).

On particulate matter (not necessarily vehicle-related), the infringement files involve 16 member states (Belgium, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Germany, Greece, Spain, France, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and Sweden).

Almost all of them have reached the Reasoned Opinion stage and two of them, Bulgaria and Poland, have already been referred to the Court of Justice, because of significant breaches of the law. The Court ruled in favour of the Commission and against Bulgaria on 5 April.

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The letter has received particular attention in Bulgaria, as the vast majority of citizens in the impoverished country have no choice but to rely on used vehicles imported from richer EU countries such as Germany or Italy. Last year in Bulgaria 26,000 new vehicles were sold but 266,000 used vehicles were registered.

The daily Sega writes that the average age of the car fleet in Bulgaria is almost double the EU average. 40% of this fleet are diesel cars. With an average salary of €500, the vast majority of Bulgarians cannot afford to buy a new car.

The Bulgarian newspaper also questioned the participation of the city of Sofia in the mayors’ initiative, which may have a noble goal but seems unaffordable for most Bulgarians.

The mayors’ initiative could be seen as part of the preparations for the Clean Air Forum in Paris on 16-17 November.