Court rules German cities can now ban diesel vehicles to cut down pollution

Germany’s top administrative court has ruled that cities now have the right to ban diesel motors across their domains in an effort to improve deadly air quality levels, reports the UK Guardian.

This according to the report means millions of heavily polluting vehicles could eventually disappear from roads across Germany.

It explained the historic decision potentially affects an estimated 12 million vehicles and has delivered a heavy blow to Europe’s largest car market, but is being celebrated by environmental campaigners.

Accordingly, Germany’s highest administrative court in Leipzig ruled in favour of upholding bans that were introduced by lower courts in the cities of Stuttgart and Düsseldorf, two of the most polluted German cities, after appeals were lodged by the states of Baden-Württemberg and North Rhine-Westphalia.

The Leipzig court ruling in the case, was originally brought by environmental groups – Deutsche Umwelthilfe (German environmental aid or DUH) and ClientEarth, and now paves the way for cities across Germany to follow suit.

“It’s a great day for clean air in Germany,” said Jürgen Resch, of the DUH.

However, the court said it would be up to cities and municipal authorities to apply the bans, but advised them to “exercise proportionality” in enforcing them, and to impose them gradually, granting exemptions for certain vehicles, such as ambulances, rubbish collection lorries and police cars.

Similarly, the Guardian quoted Ugo Taddei, a lawyer for ClientEarth to have called the decision “an incredible result for people’s health”, and suggested it could have an impact in foreign courts.

“This ruling gives us legal clarity which we’ve long waited for, that diesel restrictions are legally permissible and will necessarily trigger a domino effect across the country, impacting as well on other legal cases,” Taddei, reportedly told German media.

“ClientEarth believed that imposing traffic restrictions on the most polluting vehicles was the most effective way of improving protection from air pollution,” he said.

Also, experts estimate that excessive amounts of nitrogen oxides or NOx in the air kill between 6,000 and 13,000 people in Germany every year, causing a range of health conditions, from strokes to asthma.

Most NOx comes from transport, especially diesel motors. The EU threshold of 40 micrograms of NOx per cubic metre is frequently exceeded in many German cities, with 70 on the list, most notably Stuttgart, Düsseldorf, Cologne and Munich.

The decision will pitch millions of drivers into a state of uncertainty over how they can travel to work and school in case of a ban, and how they should deal with owning vehicles likely to plunge in value.

It will also provide Germany’s new government – which is most likely to be a grand coalition between Angela Merkel’s conservatives and the Social Democrats – with a large headache as it faces calls to consider a compensation scheme.

But eager to reassure anxious car owners, the government insisted nothing would change immediately and stressed that bans were not inevitable.

“The court has not issued any driving bans but created clarity about the law,” the environment minister, Barbara Hendricks, said. “Driving bans can be avoided, and my goal is and will remain that they do not come into force.”

Angela Merkel, also said the ruling concerned only individual cities. “It’s really not about the entire country and all car owners,” the chancellor said.

In response, the president of the Association of the German Automobile Industry, Matthias Wissmann, criticised the decision, insisting that the “ambitious air quality standards in German cities are also achievable without driving bans”.

He added that the air quality problems could be solved in the medium term “if and when more vehicles with new exhaust standards entered the car pool”.